When my friend Alex's Polish mother came to visit him here in the U.S. recently, she brought three types of vodka with her: clean Potocki; the unusual Wodka Żołądkowa Gorzka, spiced with bitter orange and clove; and Żubrowka, a centuries-old vodka flavored with bison grass. The first she urged us to down ice-cold with cream herring; the second she told us was good for settling the stomach; the third she mixed with unfiltered apple juice for the traditional Polish cocktail, the Szarlotka.
Szarlotka is the Polish word for apple pie, and that's exactly what this two-ingredient highball tastes like. It's a perfect pairing — the apple juice teases out Żubrowka's intriguing vanilla notes. In the vodka's home of Białowieża, Poland, the bison grass that flavors it has been hand-harvested for over 600 years. Because the grass contains coumarin, a controlled food additive with blood-thinning properties, Żubrowka in its original form is illegal in the U.S.; ŻU Vodka, the reformulated version available stateside, is flavored with natural ingredients that mimic the fresh chamomile and cut hay tones of the original. Poured into highball glasses over plenty of ice, it's a perfect foil for barbecue season's vinegary slaws and sweet-sauced ribs.