Cigar Aficionado

Is Vodka the New Absinthe?

Not really, but if you consider buffalo-grass vodka it does have one outstanding similarity with absinthe: They've both been outlawed, but have returned to the American market in some form.

Like absinthe, after years of being restricted in the United States, buffalo-grass vodka has re-emerged, but in a different formulation: ZU Bison Grass Flavored Vodka. Unlike absinthe, bison-grass vodka does not contain psychotropic ingredients.

The original Zubrowka, pronounced zu-bruv-ka, Polish for buffalo vodka-contained quite a bit more of the buffalo grass it was named for back in the 14th century. But it has been unavailable in the United States for decades because buffalo grass contains coumarin. Coumarin is a natural ingredient found in small amounts in many everyday foods, such as vanilla, cherries, cinnamon and celery, as well as perfume. A derivative of coumarin is used to make warfarin, an anticoagulant drug you may be familiar with by the brand name Coumadin. Because buffalo grass contains large amounts of that regulated substance, Zubrowka has been outlawed in the U.S. since 1978.

Now ZU has been introduced here as a vodka that replicates the flavor of Zubrowka, using other flavorings plus a single decorative blade of bison grass. This is reminiscent of pastis versions of absinthe, such as Pernod, which were created to replicate its taste, while not including thujone, the psychotropic chemical that caused absinthe to be widely outlawed in the early 20th century.

ZU has a distinctive taste of vanilla, coconut, lemon and spicy grass and is produced by Polmos Bialystok, of Bialystok, Poland. The nearby Bialowiesa Forest, of Poland and Belarus, is where the European bison still roam.

Zubrowka, and now ZU, has been traditionally drunk in a number of cocktails. The most popular is the Szarlotka (apple pie in English). In that cocktail, it is mixed with apple juice. Typically, it is called a Polish Kiss in America, perhaps owing to Zubrowka's supposed aphrodisiac qualities. We can't vouch for that last effect, but it makes a refreshing drink.

ZU retails for about $25 and is available in select beverage retailers. Visit www.

Polish Kiss Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. ZU Vodka
1/2 oz. unfiltered Apple Juice

Fill highball with ice, add ZU, apple juice. Stir. Garnish with bison grass.

"I agree with all of you. You can try Zubrowka really chilled or on the rocks. Drink called apple pie-worth to try! Besides it teaste good served with sprite/7up. 1/2 oz. ZU Vodka 1 oz. sprite/7up" —February 10, 2011 05:01 AM
"The best vodka in our country. Here are a lot of products we are proud and Zubrowka is one of them. Just try it..." —January 24, 2011 13:01 PM
"I'm not a vodka fan for the most part, but this is a tasty vodka. Definitely a different flavor. I don't know if it'll be great in most traditional mixed drinks with vodka, but it's nice on its own." —January 23, 2011 22:57 PM
"ZU Vodka sounds incredible. 2011 is going to be the best year for the liquor industry" —January 21, 2011 22:51 PM