Irish Cream liqueur is a sweet emulsion of whiskey and cream (approximately 40% cream) with touches of chocolate, vanilla, and caramel flavor – although the exact amounts of these ingredients is a closely held secret. Baileys Original Irish Cream was developed by R & A Bailey & Company of Dublin Ireland in the early 1970’s and launched by distributor Gilbeys of Ireland in 1974. When the concoction hit the market, it outperformed even the most encouraging sales projections and spurred an industry-wide search for more cream based liqueurs. By the 1990’s it had become the largest selling product for R&A Bailey and continues to be today.
Other drinks manufacturers jumped on the cream liqueur bandwagon, introducing alternatives to Baileys Original in the late 1970 and early 1980’s. According to their website, Carolans is the #2 selling Irish Cream but is making strides to overtake the Original. Its recipe varies somewhat from Baileys with the addition of honey being the biggest difference. Both manufacturers depend on happy Irish cows lovingly tended to provide the cream for their products. Sold at a lesser price, Carolans has a shot at moving into the #1 slot if the economy continues to squeeze consumers, but is it a good substitute in the flavor department.
Baileys Original Irish Cream
First touted as an on the rocks drink, Baileys has found its way into everything from cookies to ice cream to hot chocolate and coffee. Whichever way you prefer to enjoy it, the flavor is always comforting and always unmistakably Baileys. As a cold drink, the Original Irish Cream is thick and creamy and has the warming bite of good whiskey without too much sweetness. When added to cocoa or coffee, it adds just enough sweet to make sugar unnecessary. The whiskey flavor is not as pronounced when used this way but not to worry, its there in the background.
750ml retails for an average price of $24.99
Carolans Irish Cream
Carolans appeared on the drinks scene a few years after Baileys and has successfully carved out its own place in the market. Considered the second most popular brand based on sales, it was recently awarded a Gold Medal in the cream/dairy liqueur category at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Like its rival, Carolans is perfect over ice, in coffee and cocoa, and blends well in a variety of cocktails. It has a lighter texture, however, and for many Irish Cream fans, has better mouth feel because of it. The whiskey flavor is not as strong as Baileys making it a smoother drink. The secondary flavors of chocolate, coffee, and vanilla hit just the right note. It is slightly sweeter, probably because of the honey, but not so much that it is overpowering or cloying.
750 ml retails for an average price of $13.99
Both liqueurs have 17% alcohol by volume and are readily available for a taste test of your own.