Bison grass vodka, as it’s available in the US, is not the “real” thing—like wormwood-containing absinthe, true Żubrówka is not legal here. Now imitation versions without the offending ingredient exist, and at Seattle’s Polish Home Association community center, you can try it in the traditional fashion, alongside excellent Polish food.
Like any good Polish man, when a family friend left a host gift for us a few years ago, he left us a bottle of bison grass vodka. Like any good cocktail snob, I gave it a dubious glance—vodka rarely impresses. But this was different: the single blade of grass in the bottle signified it, and the warm, herby flavor of the drink, smooth even when sipped on its own, proved it.
Not long after that, Żubrówka, or bison grass vodka, became a trendy ingredient in cocktails. Zig Zag served it at the height of its Murray Stenson-driven fame, and now the bars at multiple Tom Douglas restaurants carry it. It is not a rare commodity, unlike a decade ago.
Żubrówka, in its traditional form, is a rye vodka infused with a Polish herb called bison grass. The American government deemed it illegal because of a blood-thinning compound that results from the infusion. The version imported to the US uses the same high-quality rye distillate, but is infused with herbs and flavorings developed to mimic the flavor of the traditional bison grass infusion.
Bison grass gets great treatment all around town: the grass cloud, at Ballard cocktail joint The Gerald, mixes the spirit with house-infused chamomile vermouth, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white. It’s delightful, and I have no complaint about this, but sometimes it’s best to get back to basics, and to do that with bison grass vodka, a trip to Dom Polski is necessary.
Dom Polski—the Polish Home Association—is the restaurant that sets up shop from 6-11 p.m. in the basement of the Polish community center at 18th and E. Madison. It’s cash only, and you’ve got to pay the $1 temporary membership fee, but once inside the dumplings come fast, rich, and heavy, the pickle soup surprises diners with bright, sour flavors, and the bison grass vodka flows from the bar like Polish does from the mouths of fellow patrons. Here, they serve the spirit in a traditional style, with apple juice. The resulting cocktail cuts through the hearty foods, lightening stomachs and moods. It’s like Polish apple pie: warming, comforting, and with just a touch of Slavic ‘zing’.