ŻubrówkaPoland’s World Famous Vodka | 0 Comments
SEDUCTIVE BY NATURE: THE ORIGINAL BISON GRASS VODKA
Żubrówka - Bison Grass Vodka is the one of the most original and popular Polish vodkas. Sometimes it is called vodka with grass, because of it's unique ingredient – bison grass. Pronounced “zhoo-BROOF-kah” the distinctive bison grass-infused vodka goes down extra smooth and packs a refreshing, subtly sweet, delicious taste.
Alcoholic beverages, such as wine and beer, have long histories. Vodka, as we know it today, was born in Poland. Poland is widely regarded as the birthplace of vodka - with over 600 years of vodka making tradition, passed from generation to generation.
Poland perfected the art of vodka making long before the other Slavonic nations. Research conducted by the Polish historian Professor Zbigniew Kuchowicz, established that the word ‘wódka’ is of Polish origin. In the old Russian dictionary, which refers to the language of sixteenth century, there is no reference to the word vodka.
Wódka reached Russia and Czech directly from Poland which, at that time, included what is now Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. We also know that Polish ‘wódka’ exports predate those made from Russia. In the Common History book, published by the Academy of Science of the Soviet Union, it is mentioned that at the end of the fifteenth century, vodka was being imported from Ukraine and Belarus by Russian merchants. There is no mention that they were producing vodka themselves.
‘Wódka’ at the very beginning was a word related to medicine and cosmetics. The word ‘wódka’ is a Polish diminutive for ‘water’ and accounts for ‘little water’, exhibiting at the same time the attitude of Poles to ‘wódka’ (something that is more appreciated than water).Aqua vitae, a Latin name for clear spirit or vodka meaning water of life, was prescribed as a remedy for certain diseases and other medicinal and cosmetic purposes. According to the Polish historian Professor TeresaSmolkowa, the word ‘wódka’ was already used in Poland in the fourteenth century. The first written evidence actually dates back to 1405. It is assumed by historians that if a word appeared in a written form it is highly likely that it has been used for many years before.
The very first written evidence of Polish ‘wódka’ recipes is available in the first Polish encyclopedia of medicine and science, published in Krakow in 1534 and written by Stefan Falimirz. One of the chapters is devoted to the art of distilling. Entitled ‘On distilling Herb Vodkas’, it contains around 70 recipes. There we find formulas not only for medicines but also for cosmetics such as vodka ‘for cleansing the chin after shaving’ or for ‘very delightful fragrant vodka which is rubbed on after washing in the bath’. Another interesting treatise is entitled ‘Vodka or gorzalka’ published in 1614, written by the Polish scientist Jurek Potanski.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in Poland the common word for vodka (alcoholic beverage) was ‘gorzalka’, meaning “scorched wine”. This was because the first spirit distillation was made from wine. In the eighth century, Arab alchemists had discovered that when wine was heated it resulted in achieving alcohol (subtle, gentle powder), spiritus vini (a spirit , ‘ghost’ of wine).
The distilling process was a deep secret of alchemists and monks until 1500 when the art of distilling, the method of extracting spiritus vini from wine, was revealed to all in the book ‘Liber de arte destillandi.’
In the sixteenth century the words gorzalka, (scorched wine) and ‘wódka’ were both used for alcoholic drinks which became socially acceptable. At that time only flavored vodkas were produced. Rye had been used for spirit production since the beginning of the fifteenth century. The simple distillation process resulted in a spirit that had an unpleasant taste and a very strong aroma, coming from impurities and the numerous natural by-products of fermentation. To conceal the undesirable taste and fragrance of the spirit, the extracts of herbs and fruits were added… including an extract of bison grass…
Rectification equipment was invented at the beginning of nineteenth century (1817 and 1830). Since then, we now talk about quality vodkas produced using the continuous production process (in contrast to pot-still production). Once rectification was developed the quality of vodka rose significantly and could be enjoyed without any added flavors.
In the early sixteenth century, all Poles were allowed to produce and sell vodkas. In Poznan, 49 pot stills were recorded, the same in Krakow and Gdansk. After 1572 only the gentry were given the exclusive right to distill and sell alcohol, a privilege for which they were taxed (an early form of excise tax).
At this time distilleries became a standard feature of country estates and monasteries. In this historical and social background, Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka was produced as a local specialty in the Bialowieza Forest. The Polish-Lithuanian Union in 1569 helped Żubrówka to become a national drink.
The Polish royal court frequently traveled to Bialowieza, for hunting and other pursuits. Żubrówka charmed the royal palates so much that it was taken back to Krakow and very soon became a national favorite. The last king of the Jagiellonian dynasty successfully proclaimed another union between Poland and Lithuania in 1569.
He spent many years in the Bialowieza region where he enjoyed the taste of vodka based on bison grass extract and enjoyed also the beauty of a Lithuanian princess. He married her in secret against his mother wishes. People say that she poisoned her beautiful daughter-in-law.
The Production Process
Żubrówka follows the sophisticated art of distillation, a unique double step spirit production process (most vodka’s are now solely produced by continuous distillation).The first step of spirit production is performed at small farm distilleries. Using craftsmanship that dates back to the fourteenth century, the distillation takes place in single copper columns. A gentle distillation process allows the spirit to retain an exceptional rye character, rich flavor and natural sweetness.
The second step of the spirit production takes place at our rectification facilities, where a raw spirit is chemically analyzed first and then goes through a hydro selection process in six columns. This removes the natural by-products of rye fermentation. The highly controlled purification process supervised by the rectification managers and computer system selectively focuses on removing these impurities while maintaining a distinctive rye flavor. This produces an unparalleled refined brand character and soul, which is not found in vodkas manufactured from neutral spirit. The secret lies in balancing purity with character.
Rectified spirit 96.5% alc/vol is blended with demineralized water taken from Białystok Distillery’s own deep well, all this under a fully controlled process, to achieve 40% alc/vol.
Bison Grass Extract Production
The grass Hierochloë odorataand Hierochloë australis is picked in early summer, when it is highly aromatic, in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest, where it grows in areas that are still a closely guarded secret. Bison Grass is harvested by hand then allowed to dry naturally. In the distillery, the grass cut to an appropriate length is spread on screens. Ethyl alcohol flows through the grass for several days creating an aromatic essence.
The distinctive, unusual aroma and greenish-yellowish color come directly from the Bison Grass. This Bison Grass extract is blended with pure vodka until the right color, aroma and taste are achieved. After several days of maturation and after filtration, the vodka is bottled at 40%.Each individual bottle is decorated by hand on the production line with a single blade of Bison Grass.
Golden Rye Fields and Bison Grass Features
Rye varieties (the queens of flavor) are obtained from carefully selected farms, located far away from the populated areas, in the ‘green lungs of Poland’ (North East of the country). Here it is cultivated in a clean unpolluted region, where the soil is loamy, fertile and rich. Only winter varieties are used. Sown in the autumn and harvested in the following summer, they contain a high level of starch.
There is a two step spirit production process, (selected farm distilleries and rectification plant) to achieve the most unique and unrivalled extract of Bison Grass. Expertise and craftsmanship guarantee a complex traceability of the whole process – from the beginning to the end. Żubrówka is a result of strict rigorous discipline and painstaking quality process. Each production step is controlled starting from the rye quality on a farm, ending with strict product parameters at the production facilities.
The Białowieza Mysterious Remote Land
The Białowieza Forest, from where Żubrówka’s ingredient (bison grass) is obtained, is located in North East Poland close to the border with Belarus.
A few historical facts:
- In the fifteenth century the forest became the property of king Wladystaw Jagietto who used it as a food reserve for his army marching towards the Battle of Grunwald in 1410.
- The first recorded piece of legislation on the protection of the forest dates back to 1538 when a document issued by king Sigismund the Old instituted the death penalty for poaching a bison. He also built a new wooden hunting manor in Białowieza which became the namesake for the whole forest.
- Until the seventeenth century the forest was a wild area, barely populated. However, in the
- late seventeenth century a few small villages were established for development of local iron and tar production.
- After the partition of Poland in 1795, tsar Paul abolished the protection of the forest. The number of bison declined from more than 500 to less than 200 in several years,
- However in 1801, tsar Alexander I proclaimed forest protection again and by 1830 there were around 700 bison.
- After the November Uprising 1831 the protection was abolished again, to be reintroduced in1860
- In 1888 the Russian tsars became the owners of this primeval forest, which was established as a royal hunting reserve. The tsars used to send bison as gifts to various European courts.
- The last tsarist hunt took place in 1912.
- During WWI the forest suffered heavily. No bison survived.
- After the Polish Soviet War in 1921 the core part of Białowieza was declared a National Reserve and 1932 most of the forest was designated as a National Reserve.
- In 1929 a small herd of 4 bison was bought by the Polish state. The introduction seemed successful and in 1939 there were 16 bison in Białowieza National Park.
- During the WWII Hermann Goring intended to establish the biggest hunting reserve in the world there.
- In 1947 Białowieza National Park was reopened.
- Internationally recognized as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program in 1976, it was then added to the World Heritage List in 1979.
- Today approximately 400 bison enjoy state protection in the Białowieza Forest.
- In April 2003 as part of the EU accession negotiations, vodka made with bison grass from the Białowieza Forest can only be produced in Poland with ingredients obtained from within the country.
- Additionally, Poland requires that for the production of vodka on its territory labeled as ‘Polish Vodka / Polska Wódka‘ , producers must use ingredients of Polish origin and within the context of a Polish quality policy. The treaty continues by adding geographical designations to various spirits including Bison Vodka which is defined as a “herbal vodka from the North Podlasie Lowland aromatized with an extract of bison grass.” (The European Union Treaty of Accession – chapter 13 Agriculture)
- Polmos Białystok is the only distillery in Poland authorized to produce the famous Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka.
Zubr (our hero) is a bison native to Poland. This noble creature is considered to be a powerful, majestic and quite endangered animal and thus all the more precious. Currently there are only 400 bison living in Białowieza.
Bottle Evolution / Bottle Revolution
From 1954 to March 2007, a basic white label was in use In April 2007 – a new transparent label was introduced. From 1985 to June 2007 a “green label” version was exported with a few exceptions e.g. Japan, where the Polish white label was available. In July 2007 – a new bottle shape, a new logo, a new Bison icon revolutionized the Żubrówka brand to what it is today.
- A dry aromatic vodka, incredibly soft and clean on the palate with a distinct lingering coconut…
- Wonderfully complex and enigmatic, with grassy herbaceous aromas (mainly thyme and lavender) with
- vanilla and spring flowers on the palate…. It’s like listening to music by moonlight, said Somerset Maughn, in Razor’s Edge
- Herbaceous, lavender, jasmine tea and citrus flavors open up further with a hint of tobacco, chocolate
- and caffe latte.
- Extraordinarily smooth, this is a connoisseur’s vodka. Natural warmth carries through all the way,
- an extraordinary achievement
- Can be drunk over ice to explore its complexity. Żubrówka exemplifies such perfection that it deserves to be sipped straight. This is luxury. Or it is:
- sensational with apple juice
- astonishing with cucumber and mint
- with pear and chocolate – gives you a thrilling moment
This is what we know:
• Vodka is a dynamic category with a lot of brand innovation
• Flavored vodka a growing category
• Many existing premium and super premium products lack brand authenticity and credible value
• Our core strengths are: roots, heritage, authenticity and uniqueness
• New design, more than just a great bottle, it is not another product in a pretty presentation
• Versatile drink occasions, such as cocktails, use Żubrówka as a staple base
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