Sunday, 23 February 2014

Black Balsam

I spent a most relaxing and interesting time with my cousin and Jenny, his wife, in Crawley, West Sussex, a mere fifteen minutes' drive from London Gatwick airport.

On Thursday evening, having dined at Goff's Manor, we walked the short distance home.

In the dining-room, Peter asked me if I'd ever heard of a traditional Latvian liquor called Riga Black Balsam.

My cousin has visited Riga several times.

Black Balsam is a herbal liqueur made with many different natural ingredients mixed in pure vodka, giving a 45% abv (90 proof) drink.

It can be had as it is, on the rocks or mixed with schnapps, aquavit, 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 drink itself is black and very bitter, but with a distinct sweetness.

The traditional recipe was created by Abraham Kunze, a pharmacist living in Riga, and is based on a composition of 24 different plants, flowers, buds, juices, roots, oils and berries prepared in oak barrels.

It is sold in ceramic handmade flagons.

Over time, Riga Black Balsam has been acknowledged also internationally, as it has received more than 30 awards at international fairs.

Black Balsam is also used in traditional medicine. It is considered to be a good cold remedy and is used to treat digestive problems. It has been made in Riga since the middle of the 18th century.

According to legend, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, became ill during a visit to Latvia, but was cured after drinking Riga Black Balsam.

We all had a measure of this spirit, which tasted, to me, like a strong cough mixture.

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