Latvian spirits

more than a year ago
Latvians have a reputation for enjoying a drink and deservedly so. Although we prefer a cold brew to get our drink on, many locals long for a shot of something stronger. The most iconic of Latvian booze is Riga Black Balsam (Rīgas Melnais balzams), a potent herbal bitter that looks like used motor oil and which packs a punch at 45% alcohol. You can try it neat, but it’s best enjoyed in a cocktail with steaming hot black currant juice called karstais balzams, which can be enjoyed in nearly any bar or restaurant. You can also try it with apple juice and other ingredients in Riga’s official cocktail – the Clavis Riga. Although not nearly as popular, Allažu ķimelis (40% alcohol) is still created according to its medieval recipe and you can even visit the merchant house (Mentzendorff's House, Grēcinieku 18) in Old Riga of the family that first produced it. It’s a liqueur with a pronounced caraway seed flavour similar to Scandinavian aquavit. It’s more difficult to find, but can be bought at any Latvijas Balzams shop in Riga. Latvians also produce their own moonshine. Popular in the countryside, especially in the eastern region of Latgale, it’s a mainstay at weddings and big celebrations. Luckily, you no longer have to scour the hinterlands of Latvia to ‘enjoy’ a shot of this flammable spirit often called kandža or šmakauka (also šmakovka) by locals. You can enjoy a wide variety of flavours by local brand Akmeņlauzis (Rock Breaker – 40% alcohol) at Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs (Peldu 19) in Old Riga or try a shot of a honey based moonshine called Rižskij Samogon (43% alcohol) in the fish pavilion of Riga’s Central Market (Centrāltirgus iela) from 09:00 - 18:00. It may also interest you to know that Russian vodka brand Stolichnaya, also known as Stoli, is produced in Riga. The SPI group, which also owns Latvijas Balzams, has been engaged in several lawsuits with the original Russian owner FKP Soyuzplodimport. For now, if you see a Stolichnaya bottle with a label that reads ‘Premium Vodka’ then it was produced in Latvia. Photos courtesy of Akmeņlauzis, Rižskij Samogon and Latvijas balzams on Facebook.


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