Baileys is a mix of Irish Whiskey, cream, chocolate, vanilla aroma, and some other flavoring that are a well-kept secret. It's a real treat when drunk on the rocks, but it also works great in dessert cocktails like the Chocolate Martini.
Yet, what appears to be a product with a long Irish tradition is actually an invention from the 70s that did not look overly promising at first. Also, it is not even genuinely Irish when it comes down to it.
About 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% and 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.
How does it taste?
The taste of Baileys is rich, creamy, and slightly boozy, and you definitely get some chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla flavors. On sipping it neat, you get a hint 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 long will it keep?
Unopened, Baileys will last for decades, despite the dairy components in it. And also, once opened, it can last for years - you usually don't even 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. First and foremost, Baileys tastes a lot better when it's cold, but then, you're also on the safe side if you keep an opened bottle for longer than a year.
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.
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, Strawberry, Vanilla Cinnamon, or 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.
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. - Frankly, 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 or the Chocolate Martini. Another infamous representative of Baileys cocktails is the Screaming Orgasm, a mix of Bailey's, Vodka, Amaretto, coffee liqueur, milk, and half-and-half.
What Baileys is also famous for is its use in layered shots. The B-52 or the Baby Guinness are real crowd-pleasers. And then, there's 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, no Baileys is involved in the making of Irish Coffee. For some reason, that is a common misconception. However, the delicious coffee cocktail contains Irish Whiskey, simple syrup, coffee, and heavy cream.
The story of Baileys
Baileys was the first-ever Irish Cream. It had a bit of a chaotic and rough start and almost didn't make it into the bars and supermarkets at all. So how did it all happen?
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 always have made up a large part of the country's economy.
Baileys is only partly Irish
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 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 was pretty close to absolutely disgusting. Still, there was something to this odd mix, and 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.
Is Baileys girly?
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!
The 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 two policemen did. Within a couple of hours, those two had emptied both bottles, which was sufficient proof of concept.
It goes to market
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.
More months of searching for the right marketing strategy and tweaking the recipe to perfection followed. And finally, in 1974, Baileys was released. And within no time, Baileys became a real hit. So much that within only five years, 75 competitors 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
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 gag.
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.
With 75 competing products on the market within the first years of its release, the list of possible substitutes for Baileys is sheer endless. You will have a hard time finding a supermarket that doesn't have at least one Irish cream liqueur on offer. Here's a list of the best budget alternatives for Baileys.
And 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. But from my experience, that's usually harder to get than Baileys or other Irish cream liqueurs.
Another viable alternative is using chocolate liqueurs like those from Mozart. Another easy and a lot more cost-efficient option is to make your own Irish cream liqueur at home.