46
Beverage Media
July 2013
1¾ oz. ZU Vodka
½ oz. St. Germain
¼ oz. Ilegal Mezcal
4 raspberries
1 strand of thyme
Dash fresh lime juice
Dash agave
Shake all vigorously,
strain into chilled
coupe/coupette/Marie
Antoinette glass.
Garnish with thyme.
SMOKIN’
THYME
Russia’s Best Meets
Poland’s Finest
ZU Vodka—now part of
Russian Standard—takes off
in bars across the country
BY KRISTEN BIELER
ON
CALL
“Our job is to create awareness for
ZU Vodka—how unique and versatile it
is,” explains Russell Pareti, Director
of Marketing for Russian Standard,
which now manages the brand in
the U.S. as of February. ZU—as
Zubrowka is called here—is a natural
fit for Russian Standard, Pareti adds:
“It’s an artisanal, handcrafted pride-
of-Poland brand, which is exactly
what Russian Standard is in Russia.”
Getting the trade familiar with it takes
time: “This is not something you can sell
in two minutes; it’s a discovery brand that
takes a lot of education because there is
nothing else like it.”
Polish and Proud
“I have Polish roots so I have known
this brand my whole life,” says Daniel
Undhammar, Global Brand Ambassador.
“I remember my grandfather sipping it
neat or with apple juice in the traditional
fashion when I was a child.”
What began hundreds of years ago
as an infusion designed to mask the
harshness of the local spirit evolved
over time into Poland’s most beloved
drink and its most unique contribution
to the world of spirits: vodka flavored
with bison grass.
In Poland’s primeval Bialoweza Forest,
European bison have fed on this unique
grass for centuries. There are only 400
animals left grazing today and Zubrowka
is the only distillery authorized by the
Polish government. Hand-harvested by
21 families, the bison grass is intensely
aromatic and reminiscent of almonds,
vanilla, marzipan, coconut and fresh-
cut grass. The distillery dries the grass
and macerates with five-times distilled
Polish rye spirit. “We use golden winter
rye, which delivers a rich flavor profile,”
explains Undhammar.
The spirit takes on a faint green hue,
and at the end of the bottling line are three
Polish ladies who place a single blade of
bison grass into each bottle.
Proof in the Cocktail Glass
ZU Vodka is easily one of the most versatile,
mixable spirits out there (the brand is men-
tioned in a number of historical bartender
books, such as the 1937 Cafe Royal London
cocktail book). “I love watching bartend-
ers engage with the brand. They take a sip,
then go to the back bar and start picking
out things to mix it with,” says Undhammar.
It works in simple drinks—with a splash of
ginger ale and touch of bitters.
Bartenders are also deconstructing
classic cocktails and building them back
up with ZU Vodka. “One mixologist did a
twist on The Aviation. He replaced gin with
Zubrowka, replaced maraschino liqueur
with St. Germain then kept the crème
Yvette and fresh lemon juice and named
it ‘The Howard’ after Howard Hughes—it’s
stunning. Because of its fresh, herbaceous
quality, it is ideal in bright spring and sum-
mer cocktails, but also works beautifully in
place of rum or whisky in more savory win-
ter drinks,” says Undhammar.
“A bartender’s job is to create unique
drinking experiences that wow their custom-
ers, and ZU helps them do that,” says Pareti.
“They like good stories about the products
they use; they appreciate spirits that have real
heritage.” Undhammar provides the dried
grass to bartenders who use it to elegantly
garnish ZU cocktails—“It’s an incredible tool
to connect the consumer with the products
origins, and bartenders love it.”
At PDT in downtown Manhattan, own-
er Jim Meehan and head bartender Jeff
Bell have gotten particularly creative with
ZU Vodka, concocting signature cocktails
that highlight the spirit’s ultra-fragrant,
savory sweet profile.
n
Z
U Vodka is not a straightforward sell-in. Though technically a flavored
vodka, the enchanting spirit has little in common with that category—
think of it more as a stand-alone spirit that can’t really be compared to
anything else on the market. For this reason, among others, bartenders
are naturally gravitating to it, especially now that the word is getting out.
PDT’s head bartender Jeff Bell creates a ZU cocktail for
Daniel Undhammar (left) and Russell Pareti.
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