The big drink in Riga, Latvia was the Black Balsams.  This is a herbal liquor made with 24 ingredients and weighing it 90 proof.  The locals were happy to harp on about the mystical charms of this drink.


I was traveling through Eastern Europe with a friend and we were drinking in a bar connected to the hostel.  It was convenient to have a room right next door.  We were chatting with a couple young, local women.  They were telling tales about the drink.  I had a beer and was already feeling fine.  They also began throwing in some old wive’s tales about consequences related to the drink.


They warned that Black Balsams could put you into a deep sleep and you might not wake up again.  They warned you had to stay awake for awhile after drinking it to avoid this fate.  Something about the combinations of herbs could keep you asleep.  It sounded farfetched to me but I was intrigued.


I was tired but I still wanted to try the stuff.  I was also facing extreme peer pressure being applied by attractive young Latvian women.  I’ve always been a believer in respecting local customs so I almost felt obligated.


After brief consultation with my friend, we decided to try it out.  I ordered a couple shots and we continued to chat with our young friends.  I got to hear a lot about how much Latvians and Russians dislike each other.  Not everyone is a believer in letting bygones be bygones.  I had a couple Black Balsams with beer chasers.  I was feeling no pain.


I was getting tired and fading.  I knew I would need to drag my ass upstairs to my room soon.  I would have to take the risk that I would in fact wake up again.  It would be kind of embarrassing to go to bed at the hostel and simply not wake up.  I made them promise that they wouldn’t tell anyone I died that way.  I made them promise to give me a proper, dramatic and poetic demise.


“Tell people I was plastered and running through the streets of Riga in my underwear at 5:00am.  I got hit by a streetcar and died curbside in the arms of a sobbing 18 year old Latvian prostitute.”


Of course, I did wake up.  I was hung over and worse for wear but I survived.  I even bought a bottle of Riga Black Balsams home with me.  Like most things, it was good but it didn’t live up to the legend.


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