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Move over, world famous Italian bitters. Riga Black Balsam has arrived.
Black Balsam is a must try beverage choice, whether in its Latvian homeland or stateside. This unique liqueur is a popular Eastern European treat, that’s slowly finding its way to other markets around the globe. Read on to learn about this drink, its applications, and its cool history.
Black Balsam has been crafted in Latvia since 1752. Baltic legend says it was originally made by a local pharmacist as a medicinal elixir for an ill Catherine the Great.
Those centuries of beverage production equate to an interesting bouquet from its 24 ingredients, whose secret combination is only known by a handful of employees. According to the official Riga Black Balsam website, those include “herbs, roots, berries, fruit juices, honey, burnt sugar … golden withy, gentian, Peruvian balsamic oil,” ginger, nutmeg, wormwood, valerian, black pepper, and more.
There are three main varietals of Latvia’s national drink, all sealed into natural clay containers. The original teeters between sweet and bitter notes and is strong in taste. A popular twist is Black Currant Black Balsam, which offers extra fruit from currant aka cassis to make it more palatable. Finally, there’s a cherry version perfect for both cocktail or dessert applications. Additionally, there’s Riga Black Balsam XO that is mixed with 8 year aged French brandy for a more layered and complex profile.
Suggested ways to use Black Balsam include on top of fruit juices, which is called a Black Shooter; peach is the most popular-see a video recipe here. This liqueur can also be enjoyed neat as a sipper or a shot, and in various fun cocktail combinations. The producer suggests a signature drink called the “Black and Stormy” that uses Black Balsam, vodka, lime juice, ginger beer, and sugar syrup. Simply “fill the serving glass with ice and all the ingredients, except Riga Black Balsam. Stir the cocktail and pour the Riga Black Balsam over it to create a dark layer. Decorate with mint leaves, a slice of lime, and sprinkle with caster sugar.” Black Balsam’s currant version can be used in a “Stairway to Heaven” or “on the rocks”. Black Balsam Cherry is best added to a “Cherry Soda” using the liquer, soda water, and an orange peel. According to the website, bartenders should “fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice. Pour Riga Black Balsam Cherry and soda water, add the orange peel, [and] decorate with a cherry. Mix before serving.”
It’s easy to see that Black Balsam belongs in your home bar, at your favorite watering hole, and on your list to try on an eventual visit to Latvia’s gorgeous capital city of Riga.