Baileys is a mix of Irish whiskey and cream combined with a secret mix of flavorings, which are a well-kept secret. When it hit the market, it provided a whole new liqueur experience and disrupted the industry.
As the first-ever Irish cream, Baileys hit the market in the 1970s. It has an ABV of 17%, a creamy consistency, and a sweet taste with flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and dairy. It was developed to make use of the excess dairy in Ireland. The popular liqueur is a real treat on the rocks but also works great in cocktails.
So, what appears to be a product with a long Irish tradition is, in fact, a quite recent invention. -With a fascinating story, though. And not entirely Irish one, either.
What's in Baileys Irish Cream?
Baileys Irish cream is a cream liqueur with a base of 50% cream and about 40% Irish Whiskey. The remaining 10% are sugar and flavorings like vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. The exact composition is a big secret, of course. - No wonder with so many copycats trying to get a piece of the cake.
For a 750ml bottle, you usually have to pay between $30 and $40. It has an alcohol content of 17%, 140 calories per 1.5 oz (45ml) serving, and a light beige or taupe color. There is even a color code-named after Baileys - #E4C7A3.
The taste of Baileys is rich, creamy, and slightly boozy, and you definitely get some chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla flavors. When sipping it neat or on the rocks, you get a subtle but notable taste of Irish whiskey, which gets more intense in the aftertaste.
The texture and the consistency are smooth and silky, comparable to a hot chocolate made with whole milk.
How to Drink Baileys
Initially, Baileys was meant to be a drink one would share with friends or family on cold winter evenings. However, on the rocks, it makes a perfect summer drink, as well. - I like it better on the rocks than neat, regardless of the outside temperature.
You can find it in typical dessert cocktails like
- the Mudslide - made with vodka, coffee liqueur, heavy cream, and Baileys
- Chocolate Martini - a blend of Irish cream, chocolate liqueur, and vodka
- Screaming Orgasm - a mix of Baileys, vodka, Amaretto, coffee liqueur, milk, and half-and-half.
What Baileys is most famous for is its use in layered shots. The B-52 or the Baby Guinness are real crowd-pleasers. And then, there's also crazy stuff like the Cement Mixer, a combination of lime juice and Baileys. Sounds gross? The taste is actually alright, but still a wild experience.
By the way, Baileys is not part of the Irish Coffee recipe. For some reason, that is a common misconception.
How Long Will Baileys Keep?
Sealed, Baileys will last for decades, despite the dairy components in it. Even opened, it can last for years - you usually don't need to keep it in the fridge.
A moderately cool (room temperature works), dark, and dry place out of the sun is absolutely sufficient to keep it for many months. The alcohol content is high enough to preserve the cream liqueur.
However, I recommend storing it in the fridge. Mainly because Baileys tastes a lot better chilled, but then, you're also on the safe side if you keep an opened bottle for longer than a year.
In the early 2010s, Baileys started experimenting with other flavorings, such as chocolate in their Baileys Chocolate Luxe - it is only part of their European product range, though.
After that, during the past ten years, their product range has grown immensely. You can now find
- Salted Caramel
- Espresso Crème
- Vanilla Cinnamon
- in some counties -including the US- even Apple Pie and S'mores.
- They also introduced a light version and a vegan option, Baileys Almande.
Most clock in at 17% ABV, like the original, but some are slightly below. On their website, you can get a complete overview.
For decades, there was only one type of Baileys available - the original Irish cream. That was so good that it inspired a lot of companies to produce similar products.
The number one substitute for Baileys is the Irish cream from Carolans. Although, with 75 competing products on the market within the first years of its release, the list of possible substitutes for Baileys is almost endless.
So far, none quite managed to achieve to copy flavor of Baileys, but some come at least close. If you want to try some and save some bucks, here is a list of the best budget alternatives for Baileys.
If you should somehow manage to find that one place where there's no Irish cream available, an alternative would be Amarula. It's a cream liqueur from South Africa made from marula fruit and tastes similar enough.
Other possible alternatives for dessert and dessert drinks are chocolate liqueurs like the one from Mozart. Another easy and a lot more cost-efficient option is to make your own Irish cream liqueur at home.
The Story of Baileys
The story of Baileys starts in 1971 with Tom Jago, who had been working for Gilberts of Ireland, a subdivision of the British company International Distillers & Vintners (IDV) at the time.
He got the task of thinking up a new product for the international market because the Irish government wanted to get away from relying almost exclusively on agriculture. Hence, they promised generous subsidies to those releasing new products internationally. Naturally, IDV wanted a part of that.
But Jago - responsible for numerous other well-known alcoholic beverages like the coconut-flavored Malibu - had no sparking idea. So he was joined by consultants David Gluckman and Hugh Seymour-Davies. The pair had just started out with their independent business a few months prior.
The first version of Irish Cream
Gluckman was the guy who made the first version of Baileys. He had previously worked with Kerrygold (a renowned Irish dairy brand), and it was an obvious choice to leverage that experience. In a flash of inspiration, he threw together Irish Whiskey and single cream.
Well, the result allegedly was pretty close to absolutely horrendous. Still, he and his partner thought there was something to this odd mix. So, Gluckman and Seymour-Davies didn't give up.
They bought Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate and some sugar and added this to their initial mix of Jameson Whiskey and cream. Surprisingly, that at least kind of worked, so they introduced the idea to Tom Jago.
After the three men agreed to move forward with the product, a long and painful period of market research followed. With the Irish caring so much about their Whiskey, the creamy mix might not go down too well. And it didn't!
Is Baileys Girly?
The first male test group found it girly, and the female test group found the drink resembled a medicine called Kaolin & Morphine, a drug to cure an upset stomach.
A test with two bottles of Baileys in a local pub also seemed to produce no results because no one bought them. -Until, eventually, two policemen did. Within a couple of hours, those two had emptied both bottles. And this was sufficient proof of concept for IDV.
Today it usually takes a lot more to get an investment of that size, but in the 70s, the two police officers were good enough. -More so when it turned out that the management of IDV didn't even care about any research and gave the product a go just because they liked it.
The Irish Cream Hits the Market
More months of searching for the right marketing strategy and tweaking the recipe to perfection followed. And finally, in 1974, Baileys was released.
After quite the chaotic and rough start, when it seemed Baileys wouldn't make it into the bars and supermarkets at all, suddenly everything happened quickly. Within no time, Baileys became a real hit. So much so that within only five years, 75 competitors had entered the market.
If you want to read the whole story, you can find it in the article about the invention of Baileys by David Gluckman in the Irish Times.
How Baileys got its name
The name Baileys itself sprung to the mind of Seymour-Davies and Gluckman when they were standing in front of a restaurant named Baileys Bistro.
They spontaneously decided to go with it, and Tom Jago agreed. The "R & A" came along when the marketing department of IDV decided the brand needed more authenticity to it.
Some claim that Baileys is a product of R & A Bailey & Company. That is because that company was mentioned on the bottles for a long time. However, that's complete nonsense, as it was just a marketing stunt.
As mentioned, Irish cream itself has no long Irish tradition. However, its two main components do. Whiskey was invented in Ireland some time during the 13th or 14th century, and dairy products are a large part of the Irish economy.
So the marketing department tried to give Baileys that vibe of tradition with the somewhat old-fashioned name.