Before Zubrowka Became The Mythical Homeland Of The Grand Budapest Hotel, It Was Polish Vodka


Long before Zubrowka became the fictional Central European republic that’s home to Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” it was a vodka made in a non-fictional Central European republic that’s home to kielbasa and Krakow. Zubrowka has been around since the 16th century. It’s rye vodka flavored with grass from a pristine primeval forest in Poland where the buffalo¬† — or more accurately, European bison — roam. A blade of “bison grass” is put in every bottle of this greenish-tinted vodka. How to describe Zubrowka’s taste? A character in Somerset Maugham’s novel The Razor’s Edge says it “smells of freshly mown hay and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender, and it’s soft on the palate and so comfortable, it’s like listening to music by moonlight.” Maugham, who is known to have enjoyed a cocktail or two, casts Zubrowka as a potion that lures a recovering alcoholic in Razor’s back to the bottle. So yeah, it’s good. Seriously smuggle-worthy. (More on that below.) No wonder Wes Anderson was inspired to name a gorgeous, magical country after the stuff. Sadly, the Zubrowka in the U.S. is often regarded as a lame approximation of the original. Like absinthe, the Zubrowka enjoyed by the rest of the civilized world is banned by the FDA. Something about bison grass containing coumarin, which is a teensy bit toxic to humans. Killjoys! It’s also found in strawberries and cherries, so how bad could it be? And trust me, you’d risk the liver damage if you ever got a sip of the real thing. (Hint: CANADA!) Here’s hoping that some boozy film nerd out there will come up with a drinking game by the time “The Grand Budapest Hotel” comes out on DVD. Na zdrowie, y’all! — RITA BOOKE (aka JOANN LOVIGLIO)