They're not dropping over left and right in Europe, so Poland's famous bison grass vodka finally has been introduced directly into the U.S. market, beginning with outlets in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Chicago.
It took a few centuries, since this particular type of vodka has been made in Poland since the 1600s — well before the U.S. was founded, so we can't count the first hundred years or so against the Poles.
Zubrowka Bison Grass Flavored Vodka is made with the rare aromatic herb grass, packaged in a 750ml bottle and sold at a suggested retail price of $26. Zubrowka is the only distiller using the grass, and the finished product has long been a European market favorite.
In a statement announcing the availability, the company said the vodka "originated in the early 14th century as a local specialty from the Bialowieza forest region, which today is Europe's last remaining primeval forest, relatively untouched by civilization and pollution. The secretive Bialowieza Forest, located deep in northeastern Poland, remains home to the largest population of European bison, and the storied, aromatic bison grass on which the herd of 400 feeds. Bison grass cannot be grown artificially, and production of authentic Zubrowka vodka has remained unchanged for centuries."
So, why the comment about people dropping over? Well, as soon as I posted a news note on my main Web site about the vodka's arrival, reader Erik Flannestad of San Francisco e-mailed this query: "It was my understanding that the FDA wouldn't allow true bison grass vodka to be imported into the U.S. because it contains coumarin. Has the FDA changed its rules?"
Coumarin, for those unfamiliar with the name, is a chemical compound also known as benzopyrone. In certain concentrations it is highly toxic. It has been found in bison grass, tonka beans, vanilla extract and even cigarettes. Its scent, usually described as "new-mown hay," is a pleasant, sweet one which had led to its use in perfumes since the 1800s.
The U.S. government has long had rigid restrictions — but not an overall, outright ban — on imported goods containing coumarin. Coumarin itself is used in medical products such as anti-coagulants.
As restrictions have been eased in recent years on various imports, principally from India and South Korea, with no apparent ill effects, globally coumarin is being viewed with less suspicion.
I checked with the Pesticide Action Network North America's PAN Pesticides Database, which says coumarin is not banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or by any government agency.
MORE NEW PRODUCTS: If you're looking for some more new spirits for the holiday season, here are a few just on the market:
— Bambu Rum: David Kanbar's experience at Skyy Vodka (as an executive for the enterprise founded by his uncle) let him know a start-up spirit is possible even in a crowded market. So, he created this "rum for vodka drinkers," as he terms it. It's quadruple distilled and triple filtered in the British West Indies to remove any impurities that cause vodka headaches for some people. It is made in tiny batches and packaged in a fancy-schmancy bottle with a suggested retail price of $47.99.
— TOZ Rum: St. Lucia Distilleries named this new offering for the "troy ounce," the measurement usually used for weighing precious metals. TOZ, like all St. Lucia rums and rum liqueurs, is made from molasses shipped in from Guyana. It is a blend of rums from two to seven years old, distilled in copper alambic pot and continuous stills, then aged in American white oak barrels and, finally, finished in vintage port casks. Suggested retail price: $23 for a 700ml bottle.
— Boomerang Vodka: This product from Foster's Wine Estates in Australia is a charcoal-filtered distillation made from Chardonnay grapes. It is being marketed in a joint venture with Chris Williams, who also owns Wattle Creek Winery in Sonoma, Calif. Suggested retail price: $19.99 for a 750ml bottle.
(William M. Dowd covers the beverage world at BillDowd.com.)
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