Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Trollied Tuesday: Rīgas Melnais balzams

That's Riga Black Balsam to you and me - a distinctive Latvian drink. When you find yourself in the Baltic, when it's always raining in a manner that - for me at least - reminds one the soft and gentle melancholy of the Irish coast, then a glass of the black stuff is your only man.

This is not a gentle, warming drink like stout, however. So far I have had just one glass of it, straight. It has a bitter taste, like that of wormwood (I suspect that consumed in great quantities it would be as lethal as absinth); yet it is a clear, purifying drink - bracing as the Baltic sea air; it is an acerbic drink, with touches of sweetness. It has in it, too that distinctive northern European quality of seeking oblivion by means of drink. (Next time you hear some idiot asking why the Brits – or Irish, indeed – can't drink more like the continentals, ask them if they have the Norwegians or the Finns in mind).

Its blackness mimics that of night and of perpetual winter, yet through it alcoholic qualities it evades these by providing a sort of dream world in which one can escape. If it were a song, it would be – of course – The Man in Black. In short, it is a melancholic drink as befits Latvia's history; yet it commands respect. Drink and your soul shall taste the sadness of her might and be among her cloudy trophies hung. Balsam for the soul indeed.

The balsam's Wikipedia entry (from which I have copied the image) suggests mixing it with a variety of fruit juices or soft drinks to make a cocktail – I'm not sure about this, but I bet it goes well with coffee. It is also possible, I gather, to mix it with schnapps, vodka or some such spirit. Now that's more like it.

UPDATE: In light of the above, it's little surprise that I've just been reminded of the following fact.

Latvia has the dubious honour of holding the record for the world’s drunkest person. A few years ago an unnamed vagrant was found unconscious by police and rushed to hospital where his blood test revealed an astounding 7.22 parts per million of alcohol.

As the BBC reported at the time:

He said he had got drunk because his wife left him - and his wife left him because he drank too much.


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4 Comments:

Blogger dominic said...

I bet he was an ethnic Russian (as the Latvian Ministry of the Interior doubtlessly were quick to announce).

But surely one of the many ethnically Russian Latvian citizens working and living in Ireland (as the many ethnically Russian Latvian non-citizens would not be permitted to go to work there) would be drunker still?

Two big bottles of the black stuff for me, please. I love it. (On a winter evening it does goes well in a strong black coffee, although the effect is very different from a caffe corretto with grappa in - the flavours are much closer together)

I trust you've found the great Russian restaurant in Riga (and, also, the "Lido" chain, complete with waitresses in traditional national costume, that has to be the best semi-fast food chain, perhaps in the world)

I also like the fact that the main square in Riga is (uniquely) known my the abbreviated form of my name in RUssian - Domchik

10:49 pm  
Blogger bill said...

I bet he was an ethnic Russian

That's a very ethnocentric assumption Dominic.

I trust you've found the great Russian restaurant in Riga (and, also, the "Lido" chain, complete with waitresses in traditional national costume, that has to be the best semi-fast food chain, perhaps in the world)

See, that's rather annoying. What is the name of the place. There is more than one Russian restaurant. Am I supposed to go round all of them asking the staff if they remember you, perchance.

As for Lido. Why don't you open a branch in Stoke Newington High Street? I'm sure it'd be a hit. Alternatively, I reckon getting the Nando's franchise for Riga would be a winner.

I also like the fact that the main square in Riga is (uniquely) known my the abbreviated form of my name in RUssian - Domchik

Is it really? A Russian diminutive for a Germanic tautology. Thanks for the warning. I'd threaten to call you Doma laukums from now on, but it would be a bit, you know, effete.

12:38 pm  
Blogger dominic said...

The Russian place is, I think, Traktieris, at Antonijas iela 8 - just outside the old town. Be prepared for wandering musicians between tables.

An interesting drink-related factette
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7460372.stm

1:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balzams and hot black currant is definitely the best cold dreary rainy weather drink

8:16 pm  

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