Yesterday I had the chance to try a quite portentous drink with some friends: The Latvian National Cocktail Clavis Riga (Key to Riga).
In 2011 it was chosen as the winner of a competition that caught the attention of the Latvian media: the challenge was about finding the new National Cocktail, the flagship of Latvian bar culture. Base of the drink is of course the Latvian “national spirit” Riga Black Balsam.
In the context of the Dark & Windy Highball I have already covered a drink on the basis of this spirit, but back then I used the “Currant” version of the Black Balsam. In the Clavis Riga-Cocktail the original stuff enhances the drink with its complex bitter flavors. If you savour Riga Black Balsam straight, you will get something reminding you of a rich and viscous Fernet Branca with earthy and slightly fruity notes. In combination with De Kuyper Sour Rhubarb, apple juice, white chocolate syrup and grenadine I initially feared a pretty sweet overkill. Of course such a national cocktail should not come up with too strong niche characteristics, so that only a few lovers of extreme tastes would appreciate the drink, that’s why I also expected it to be a little bit above the neutral line of sweetness.
The first try somehow confirmed my expectations: The very bitter Riga Black Balsam has indeed caught a lot of sweetness, but in total the result was a bit too sweet for my taste. Therefore I have changed the recipe a bit and have used less syrup. Finally, I was very pleased with the result.
The Clavis Riga has a really interesting flavor profile: tasty and complex with notes of dark jam and nice bitterness. Herbs and roots, oranges, cherries and even a kind of sugar beet molasses (sugar syrup) were my associations while tasting the cocktail. I really liked the less sweet version of the drink!
Recipe (modified version with reduced sweetness):
2 cl Riga Black Balsam
1 cl De Kuyper Sour Rhubarb Liqueur
5.5 oz apple juice
1 bar spoon of white chocolate syrup
1 bar spoon of grenadine (use real pomegranate syrup! Personally, I always use pomegranate syrup when a recipe calls for grenadine – thanks to Raitis for the comment)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously (about 15 seconds). Then strain into the chilled glass and sprinkle with the oil of the orange zest. At last, give the zest into the drink.
Garnish: Orange zest