Riga Black Balsam

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Riga Black Balsam
Rigas Balzams.JPG
A bottle of classic Riga Black Balsam
ManufacturerLatvijas Balzams
Country of originLatvia
Alcohol by volume45.0% (classic), 30.0% (blackcurrant and cherry)
Proof (US)90
ColourBlack (classic), dark purple (blackcurrant) or dark red (cherry)

Riga Black Balsam (Latvian: Rīgas Melnais balzams) is a traditional Latvian balsam made using a single-barrel infusion technology. Barrel by barrel botanicals are infused in the spirit-water; a mix to create a so-called "Riga Black Balsam essence". After that, the essence is blended with the rest of the ingredients and bottled in ceramic bottles.

Riga Black Balsam is produced by JSC Latvijas Balzams and has received more than 100 awards at international fairs throughout its history.[1][2]


The traditional recipe was created in 1752 by Abraham Kunze, a pharmacist living in Riga.[3] It consists of 24 natural ingredients, including 17 botanicals – bilberries/blueberries, raspberries, birch buds, bitterwort root, peppermint leaves, Artemisia absinthium stalks and leaves, ginger root, Valerian root, sweet flag root, Melissa officinalis leaves and stems, Tilia cordata blossom, oak bark, St John's wort, buckbean leaves, black pepper, Citrus aurantium skins and nutmeg.[4]

According to tradition only the Head Liquor Master and several of his apprentices know the exact secret recipe. The original recipe was lost sometime during the chaos of WWII and the resulting German occupation. It has been estimated that Latvia, where Riga Black Balsam is made, lost nearly 25% of its population during the war; apparently those who knew the original recipe were among the between 300,000 and 500,000 killed in Latvia in WWII. After the war, the recipe was carefully restored by a joint effort of former employees. Since then the recipe has remained unchanged.[citation needed]


Riga Black Balsam cocktail

It can be had as it is, on the rocks or mixed with schnapps, akvavit, or vodka, or warm, in tea, coffee or black currant juice, or mixed with soda water or a soft drink, or in any variety of cocktails. It is also occasionally enjoyed as a topping on ice-cream. The classic drink itself is black and very bitter, but with a distinct sweetness.

Black Balsam is also used in traditional medicine. It is supposed to be a good cold remedy and is used to treat digestive problems.[5][better source needed] There are no epidemiological studies which back these claims up.[6] According to legend, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, became ill during a visit to Latvia but was cured after drinking Riga Black Balsam.[3]


  1. ^ Riga Black Balsam History
  2. ^ "This Must-Try Beverage From Latvia Is Black as Pitch". TripSavvy. Retrieved 2018-07-24.
  3. ^ a b McLagan, Jennifer (2014). Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes [A Cookbook]. Ten Speed Press. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-1-607-74516-7.
  4. ^ "Riga Black Balsam". Baltic Spirit. Retrieved 28 December 2019.
  5. ^ Protection Of Civil Populations From The Spill Of Toxic Materials During The Movement Of Military Goods (page 16)
  6. ^ Latvian National Recipes

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