‘Subtle hints of linden blossom, birch bud, valerian root, raspberry, bilberry, and ginger as well as touches of nutmeg and black peppercorn tease the palate and come alive in the glass’.

I derive great amusement from reading the absolute piffle written on wine bottles and the like and was equally amused to read the above on JSC Latvijas balzams’ website in reference to Riga Black Balsam (Rigas Melnais balzams).

Riga Black Balsam is a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur, vodka based and infused with some 24 herbs and spices – phases of the moon strictly adhered to! It is based on, and fairly true to, an original recipe concocted by Riga pharmacist, Abraham Kunze, in the 18th century.

Based on the recommendation of friend and spirits connoisseur I made sure I didn’t leave Riga without trying a Black Balsam.

I had one, straight, partly as a night cap and partly for medicinal reasons to remedy a then recently acquired slight digestive problem! Ok, I should add that I had it after a hot vindaloo. If it goes with that (and it did) it will go with anything.

While the hints of linden blossom, birch bud, valerian root, etc didn’t tease my palate in the manner I was anticipating it was certainly an enjoyable and potent drop, if a little on the bitter side.

Somewhat of an acquired taste in its undiluted form, I certainly recommend you try it. Some people prefer it mixed with blackcurrant or in a cocktail. Indeed, a blackcurrant version is available.

While I didn’t actually notice any locals drinking it, it is readily available in cafes, restaurants and of course regular bars. It can also be acquired at specialist Black Balsam bars/cafes and in various sized bottles should you wish to take one, or more, home.

For those interested, the Black Balsam did nothing to solve my temporary digestive problem. That resolved itself.


This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on the Old City area of Riga. I suggest you continue with my next entry – The Former Jacob’s Barracks – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my first entry – SamaraH Hotel Metropole – Riga.


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