Last Spring we contacted our good friends Rob and Kara to see if they wanted to join us for dinner. Unfortunately, they already had plans to attend a going away party for a couple leaving Chicago to live in Michigan. So long story short: We still had dinner with our friends, and crashed the going away party.
We know the couple who moved away; in fact, Mr. Musky and John are fraternity brothers, and we’ve hung out with Nara and John often thanks to our mutual friend group. If there’s one regret I have with the whole situation it’s that we didn’t get to know them better. Nara is the sweetest little thing with long braids, impeccable style, and a bohemian flair that she pulls off flawlessly. And John is quiet and sweet with the unmistakable zing of sarcasm and wit of an early 1990s Alpha Gamma Kappa Sigma. They’re both wonderful people.
But here’s the thing: Timing just didn’t work out for us to be super close, lifelong friends. We had our kids fifteen years before they did, and we’ve been at a different point in our lives as a result. We were in the throes of toddlerdom; they were finishing graduate degrees and partying like rock stars in the city. We lived too far away in the suburbs and were busy planting flowers and cutting grass while they were establishing their careers and ultimately getting married. Speaking of marriage? Their wedding in the Windy City was epic, as told by both the beautiful candid pictures and from the stories of their guests.
I’ve never heard of vodka on the tables at a wedding reception (and I even married a Polish guy!), but apparently this one graced every table at that celebration the night they exchanged their nuptials.
At their going away party, Nara pulled this out and everyone in the room joined them in a goodbye toast. Being the designated driver that night, I partook in one shot and graduated to water for the rest of the evening. Shocked at the taste, I had to study the bottle to see what encased that unique, almost non-vodka tasting liquid with the single blade grass hovering inside. I’ve since looked for Zubrowka at Binny’s but to no avail. So imagine my surprise when I encountered it in the Northwoods. Without a second thought, it promptly rested in my grocery cart.
Zubrowka is created from bison grass – where bison graze, and pee, as Rob so duly noted.
“You like Bison piss, huh?”
Well apparently, I do.
On the nose, I immediately sense notes of vanilla and citrus, leading me to the immediate conclusion that this is not your typical odorless, tasteless vodka. I love the neutrality of vodka – it has the ability to take on any number of creative flavors. But like Aquavit, this stuff is in a class of it’s own. It’s definitely nowhere close to gin, doesn’t have the spicy notes of Aquavit, and in my opinion, is so far away from classic vodka I’m surprised it carries that name. It’s light, crisp, full flavored, and can (and probably should!) be sipped straight up.
That’s why I did very little to alter the spirit in today’s recipe. With regard to the citrus notes I sense lime most of all, so I added 1/2 ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice to 4 ounces of the vodka and sipped it really cold, straight up in a martini glass, on a warm afternoon overlooking my one flower pot and the lake.
This’ll go down really fast and easy. At that wedding, stories abound of the non-Polish trying to keep up with Nara and her family and failing miserably. There are tales of guests abandoning the party before the dancing even started to stumble back to their hotel rooms, proceeding to consume giant burritos in bed, waking up in the morning wondering if wild animals tore their bedroom apart the night before. Beans smeared on the sheets. Lettuce strewn across the room. Headaches and spins leaving them wondering Hangover style, “What the hell happened last night?”
My point? Sip this very carefully. Savor the taste of a remote region of Poland, thanking the Bison for creating such a unique, flavorful creation.
As for me? I will never, ever sip this without thinking of barefoot sweet Nara, long braid down her back, giant hoop earrings and flowy, floral maxi dress as she sweetly shouted, “Na Zdorovie!” before throwing back a shot with her friends surrounding her in her kitchen.
- 4 oz ZU Vodka
- ½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- Lime zest, for garnish
- Pour the contents into a shaker and fill with ice.
- Shake vigorously for 30 seconds and strain into a martini glass.
- Garnish with a lime zest.