The famous wine writer (and importer) of the 50s through the 80s, Alexis Lichine once said about learning wine "buy yourself a corkscrew and use it." The message clearly, taste, taste and taste again. I translated this idea with spirits into a visit at the Urban Grape South End the other day where I decided to purchase a bottle I'd never heard of, and, well, taste. As Ben Bouton (of UG and beer buyer) said to me "...either way trying something new is worth it. At worst, if you don't like it, you know you never have to try it again." Words to live by.
I picked Riga Black Balsam, an herbal liqueur from Latvia, created in 1752 to help heal the empress of Russia. Like so many old spirits, began in this medicinal way and today is sipped after dinner or maybe added to coffee or tea. What's in it? Secret recipe of course, but they do admit to birch bud, valerian root, raspberry, ginger, nutmeg, black peppercorn, peppermint and other herbs and blossoms.
It's kind of like Fernet Branca or other Amaros with the addition of berry sweetness (almost, but not quite, cough syrup-esque). Pretty rough and tumble though, trust me, a lot goes a long way, and at 90 proof you don't want to be drinking shots of this all night. So, what do you do with it? Here's what I tried, kind of a Riga Julep:
1.5 oz rye, .5 oz Riga Black Balsam, .25 oz simple syrup, mint, .5 lemon, ginger beer. Pretty tasty and surprisingly light.
Go out and try something new, you just never know.
Riga Black Balsam 375ml available at the Urban Grape, $18.
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