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Where to find Riga Black Birch/Balsam/Balzams? (spirit of Latvia)

Russel Shank Feb 20, 2010 04:45 AM

This spirit is the unofficial national drink of Latvia, and I am having a tough time finding it in the U.S. (primarily in Mid Atlantic and D.C. metro area.)

I'm not very familiar with liquor importing, where to find obscure spirits, etc.

Any tips/help?

  1. jerryc123 Feb 20, 2010 06:18 AM

    This looks delicious. What is it like? An herbal root beer, or more like Becherovka?

    US importer...
    Baltic Trade Corporation
    Wholesale Liquor Products
    6600 Smith Rd
    Denver, CO 80207
    Tel: (303) 286-3587
    You can e-mail them to find out who has it in your area.

    1. EvergreenDan Feb 20, 2010 07:04 AM

      My Latvian friend with the humongous esoteric liquor collection (hundreds of bottles, many hand imported from travels around the world) "treated" me to a wee dram of this stuff. Very bitter. The Fernet Branca I brought was like a butter knife at a gun fight. I did enjoy it in slap-your-face-sit-up-straight kind of way.

      3 Replies
      1. re: EvergreenDan
        jerryc123 Feb 22, 2010 03:51 AM

        I think Fernet Branca is pretty strong and bitter. Riga is even more so?
        The description for Riga says...
        "Subtle hints of linden blossom, birch bud, valerian root, raspberry, bilberry, and ginger as well as touches of nutmeg and black peppercorn..."
        Is that just marketing nonsense? How can anything that strong have "subtle hints" of anything?

        1. re: jerryc123
          Russel Shank Feb 22, 2010 05:46 AM

          The Latvian travel guides mention how locals love to feed it to foreigners, primarily for the pleasure of watching them cringe/gag/squirm.

          It was invented centuries ago as an elixir, so its primary function is/was to act as a medicine, not something to compliment food or accompany leisure.

          Its basically a bunch of bitter stuff from the woods fermented and concentrated, enjoy!

        2. re: EvergreenDan
          EvergreenDan May 8, 2010 08:56 PM

          I need to amend my comment. Black Balsams is not that bitter. It's very enjoyable, and a flexible and intriguing cocktail ingredient.

          The deadly-bitter stuff was some scary ceramic bottle of German vile. I'm anxious to try it again. :)

          Since I see it around Boston, it's a shame that it's so hard to find elsewhere. If you like challenging flavors, it's a treat.

        3. JMF Feb 20, 2010 11:04 AM

          My father is Latvian so I have 5-6 unopened bottles, but they are so old that most of the contents have evaporated. I haven't seen them for sale in decades.

          1. p
            pb n foie Feb 20, 2010 11:08 AM

            go to wineanthology.com. they ship but not to every state. good luck!

            1. c
              craigasaurus Feb 21, 2010 09:32 AM

              I've seen it on the shelves of several stores in metro Boston. If that helps at all, Marty's in Newtonville carries 375 and 750 ml bottles of it.

              1. StriperGuy Feb 22, 2010 12:12 PM

                I just bought some for $30 a 750ml bottle at Sav-Mor at Fresh Pond in Cambridge, MA.


                http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Riga+Black+Balzams and click shopping.

                1. EvergreenDan Apr 9, 2010 04:31 PM

                  Just bought a bottle at the liquor store by Trader Joes / Fresh Pond, Cambridge, MA. Maybe this is Sav-Mor?

                  It is black -- freightening in fact -- in the mixing glass. It has a mild sweet coniferous flavor, with a slow-building bitter finish. Good stuff. I concocted this:

                  Midnight Ruby
                  1 oz Gin
                  1 oz Campari
                  1/2 oz Black Balzams
                  1 oz Grapefruit

                  Yum. It is very, very tasty without the gin, but it lack a bit of kick that way, causing me to drink it rather quickly. I would very happily drink it sans gin when I'm looking for a slightly lighter drink. Surprising, the Balzams is 90 proof. You wouldn't know it to sip it.

                  OK. Now how about some more recipes using Black Balzams. It's great stuff.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: EvergreenDan
                    JMF Apr 19, 2010 07:17 AM

                    That recipe sounds both very complex, and refreshing, at the same time.

                  2. Perilagu Khan May 3, 2010 03:07 PM

                    I sure wish I could find this stuff in Texas. Would love to try it in a martini.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Perilagu Khan
                      Russel Shank May 3, 2010 03:21 PM

                      Thanks for the tips everyone.

                      I tried having an exceptional spirits shop owner in D.C. track it down. He found the U.S. importer, was skeptical about whether the company was still breathing but placed an order anyway. No shipment, no response.

                      I've seen some Balzam listed on Ebay, for a fairly high price. If anyone is very curious, you can find it there. I'm not serious enough to throw down double what its worth, for what is essentially novelty.. already have some little airplane bottles anyway.

                    2. MC Slim JB May 8, 2010 11:52 AM

                      It's also carried by the Wine Gallery in Brookline, MA, whose owner is Eastern European.


                      1. m
                        minsocal Feb 12, 2011 01:33 PM

                        Try http://www.argonautliquor.com/r/produ... You can order online

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