Review: Latvijas Balzams Riga Black Balsam

Review: Latvijas Balzams Riga Black Balsam

Bitter spirits week (month? there’s no end in sight, really…) continues here at Drinkhacker with an obscurity: Riga Black Balsam, a Latvian liqueur made by Latvijas Balzams.

“Black” is an understatement. Black Balsam pours with the opacity and color of dark coffee, and it isn’t out of line to suggest there are similarities in the taste department, too.

Flavored with 24 ingredients, including various herbs and fruits and aged in oak barrels, this is a complicated spirit with few good analogues. Intensely bitter, it is woody and sharp, offering flavors of stout beer, coal, smoky peat, and root beer. The bitterness is huge — though not quite at Cynar level — and combined with the heavy amount of alcohol (at 90 proof it’s much more powerful than most bitter spirits), its power is remarkable.

That said, Black Balsam lacks a certain finesse that should ultimately make a spirit like this refreshing. It’s got so much power, and probably too much booze, too, that it doesn’t exactly complete a meal, it eradicates it.

Note: This bottle was purchased in Latvia. Bottles may differ by region.

90 proof.

B  / $21

Latvijas Balzams Riga Black Balsam




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.


  1. Piotr on February 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Its funny how it became an epitome of something awful with my friends. I get at least a bottle of it every year and I just bring it to random social gatherings. I tried drinking it in every way possible, adding it to coffee, drinks, drinking it straight. It just seems to spoil everything it mixes with.

  2. Jouko from Finland on April 4, 2011 at 4:45 am

    This is actually my favorite spirit. I guess it usually takes more than one try to get used to it. :D

  3. Dace on August 12, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Don`t expect that RBB would be something that you know..It is a unique product and probably people who look for sweet products or something different would never understand it.
    It is strong herbal bitter – 45%, and it is also healthy because it has 24 natural ingredients inside. What can be better in rainy and cold day – you warm up black currant juice, add some slices of lemon and orange and a little bit will warm you up like nothing else :) natural ingredients will help against catching cold and become ill..It is perfect! :)

  4. Erwin on September 2, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    My old man just brought a bottle back from overseas. I loved it. Everyone has different tastes.

  5. Julius on April 16, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    This is my favourite spirit! I like it has personality like nothing else…

  6. Lee Harris on December 18, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Please understand that this is genuine medicine not primarily made for your palate like an aperitif is. So, for women one drop in a cup of coffee will do and for men one drop of coffee in Balzams will suffice. If this is still too strong take it in hot tea.

  7. Rob on February 25, 2018 at 10:06 am

    Great on vanilla ice cream.

  8. Anne Smith on October 20, 2019 at 6:33 am

    Yes, this is a genuine medicine and does not taste particularly delightful.
    However – it is brilliant.
    En route to Tallin I became ill with a rotten cold. I took to my bed that evening,but I did have a bottle of Riga Black Balsam which I sipped all day, next day, finishing with a sauna in the evening and a final glass.
    The next morning I was up bright and early and the cold had GONE!!

  9. GJS Grant on August 16, 2020 at 5:24 am

    I think that Riga Black Balsam was a concoction made in desperate times when there was nothing really available for fermentation apart from waste products and a few herbs. Certainly tastes that way.

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