If you are going to be visiting Riga in Latvia, you may want to know about Riga’s Black Balsam. So here is all you need to know about Riga’s traditional drink. A Latvian herbal liqueur, it is complex, dark and somewhat of an anomaly.
Around since the 18th century, dating back to 1752 and concocted by a pharmacist living in Riga, the drink contains 24 natural ingredients such as peppermint leaves, ginger root, black pepper, citrus and nutmeg, to name a few. Legend has it that Catherine the Great of Russia came back from the brink of death thanks to its medicinal properties. Sounds a little far-fetched but who doesn’t love a good back story. The drink has maintained it’s popularity in Latvia despite an increase in competition in the spirits market.
What does Black Balsam taste like?
The taste is undenably unique. The closest drink it can be likened to is Jägermeister, minus the sweet notes. Dark, bitter and complex in flavour, you could be forgiven for not rushing to the bar to order a round of shots. It’s versatility though, means it can be drunk in a variety of ways, creating many diverse flavours.
How should you drink Black Balsam?
This is completely down to personal preference. . You can have it neat, on the rocks or with a mixer. If you are more of a cocktail guy or gal you’ll find plenty of classic cocktails on the menus in Riga which have a Black Balsam twist. My ultimate favourite was drinking it as a soothing hot drink with hot water, blackcurrant and a slice of orange. It could perhaps give the class Scottish Hot Toddy a run for its money in terms of curing the winter sniffles.
Will Black Balsam give me a hangover?
Usually the darker the drink the worse the hangover, so the clue is perhaps in the name here. Coming in at a plenteous 45% ABV, it’s recommended like all alcohol that you drink in moderation (and that’s advice coming from a Scot!).
Where can I find Black Balsam if I’m not in Latvia
Other fun facts about Black Balsam
- There is a Black Balsam global cocktail challenge
- It’s an award winning liquor
- The original recipe went missing during WWII, the recipe has not changed since it was restored after the war
- In 2019 an Espresso edition of Black Balsam was released
- Black Balsam is bottled in clay. The ingredients interact with this natural material and its unique flavour continues to to develop for 6 months after it’s bottled
- Out of the 24 ingredients, 17 are botanicals
Have you tried Black Balsam? Did you like it? Let me know in the comments.
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