Thursday, 22 May 2014

Review: Grasovka Bison Grass Vodka

My introduction to Bison Grass Vodka was at a concerningly young age in my Great-Grandfather's home in Poland. It was the early 90s, and my parents had gone off to sample some of the dubious restaurant cuisine in the area (Polish food in the 90s. Can you even imagine..

"We are going to drink this, and then drink some more, and you will learn to drink and no man will ever be able to take advantage of you."

Whilst many of you may cringe with concern that this was the natural approach, this is the country with proverbs such as ""Hey hillbilly boys, don't fight. The girl will dance with both of you!".

We drank a bottle and a half between three of us. I don't remember the incident, but my family tell this story as a way of explaining what I do for a living.

From this incident onwards, Bison Grass Vodka has been, as in most household in Poland, a staple for me. A lot of Vodka is drunk in Polish households, but Bison Grass Vodka is a particular Polish speciality. 

Bison Grass Vodka is now in every pub in the country, diluted with Apple Juice and called a Frisky Bison (people who name cocktails are Tabloid Headline School rejects). I once went drinking with some plumbers from Wigan in a Wetherspoons in Manchester and all the guys had ditched lager for Bison's. 

In my head I romantically imagined it was like the Accrington Benedictine phenomenon, but it's much more simple than that. The influx of Poles into Britain following its inclusion into the EU, coupled with the already residing Polish community had made Vodka cool again. Gone were the days of Smirnoff being the only choice on optic, nowadays even your most basic pub has an array of vodkas from all over the world.

Poland still rules though, and at all ends of the market, from Belvedere to Wyborowa and every price point in between.

Crucially, Grasovka and others like it are NOT flavoured vodka. They aren't cheap confections from the mind of a marketing team, desperate to keep you interested in their product (Hello Absolut), this is a vodka with a distinct flavour, redolent of cinnamon and baking spices, which is entirely down to the traditional production method and peculiarities of the raw materials.

The base is rye, which gives it a more viscous and intense palate than other grain spirits, and most Polish vodkas fall into either the rye or potato category. A tincture is then added made from Bison Grass, which is usually from the Bialowieza Forest in the East of Poland. 800 Bison roam this forest, 'living' on the grass, giving it's unique flavour (maybe don't think too hard about that bit when enjoying it). This has been made in Poland from the 14th Century, put that in your pipe and smoke it, Absolut Coffee.

Grasovka may not be as well known as other counterparts, but in tastings it does incredibly well, still having the viscosity and perfume making it an enjoyable vodka to drink neat. Keep it in the freezer, and don't shoot it. Vodka's like this are meant to be drunk as you would a cognac or a whisky.

BUT. Does it pass the Polish test? Grasovka sent me a sample which I downed when already passed with a friend of mine who doesn't get vodka, and I couldn't recall if I had thought 'this is great' because I liked it or because it was one of those nights where everything tastes good.

As a result, I bought a bottle myself and took it down to a Polish gathering in Manchester where it was drunk at lunchtime, neat, straight out of the freezer accompanying Bigos (a sauerkraut, venison and sausage stew). It passed with the younger contingent, but it crucially passed with the 90 year-old who used to make it herself in a garage in a town that's now part of Belarus, not far from the Bialowieza forest.

"Frances, kupuję 6 proszę."

"Frances, I will buy 6 please" - what more do you really need to know?

You can buy a bottle of Grasovska Bison Grass Vodka from The Drink Shop for just £20.14. It's also in Waitrose for £20.

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