What is Riga Black Balsam?

Many people will try this infamous drink when visiting Riga. But beware it is not to everyone’s taste! Riga Black Balsam (Rīgas Melnais Balzams) is a secret blend of herbs, roots and spices to warm your insides on a cold winter day.

This drink is famous amongst locals as a medicine for all ailments as well as a winter pick-me-up. Riga Black Balsam is by far one of the strangest alcoholic spirits that you will come across on your travels, with its extremely peculiar taste and bizarre effect. It is a must try when in Riga, and likely to be a highlight or a low point of your trip to Riga!

The drink itself dates back many years to the mid 18th century and was originally created as a medicine. The ledgend says that it helped cure the Empress Catherine the Great of a sickness that she developed whilst spending time in Riga. After her recovery, Riga Black Balsam become much sought after, and it soon become the medicine of choice for many citizens of the Russian empire. With its 45% alcohol content, there is surely more than one ingredient that helps people feel better!

Riga Black Balsam

Black Balsam is a herbal bitter, made up of something in the region of 24 ingredients, however the recipe is still a carefully guarded secret. For some folks out there, its better not to know what is in it, as many a visitor is not compelled to try the drink again after the first taste! Some, on the other hand will embrace this new taste and try it with the many mixers and cocktails that are on offer by the various bars in Riga. You can easily find it in most bars, shops and cafes around Riga.

So how to drink Riga Black Balsam? In honesty, I would recommend Black Balsam to be drunk on a winters day, with hot black current juice mixed in. This is surely going to warm up your frozen toes and fingers! You can also have it just as a shot, but there are many news ways to drink it as they try to market the Black Balsam to a new, younger audience. Try a Black Balsam cocktail; a 50/50 mix with peach juice is nice, as is cranberry juice but you can see what kind of Black Balsam cocktails are on offer when you arrive in the city.

What ever you do, drink moderately, whenever alcohol and foreign countries are involved you need to be careful. Read our Is Riga safe section for more info on staying safe in Riga.