Baileys Irish Cream Original: The Ultimate Bottle Guide

When you think of typical Irish drinks, a few names immediately spring to mind: Alongside Guinness and Jameson is Baileys Irish Cream — a liqueur consisting of an undisclosed blend of Irish whiskeys, cream sourced from small Irish farms, and cocoa. Baileys now comes in over 10 varieties with new flavors appearing and old ones disappearing regularly. But the original, which clocks in at 17% alcohol by volume or 34 proof, is the most well known. In addition to sipping neat and forming part of several cocktails, Baileys can be enjoyed in a variety of hot drinks and used as a baking ingredient.

The liqueur's success in the U.S. wasn't a sure thing. Male product testers described the taste as a "girly drink," and female product testers described the taste as similar to Kaolin & Morphine (a diarrhea medicine), according to i News. Despite the initial hesitancy, the drink surged in popularity. It has a strong association with the festive season in places like Britain, reports the site, and has established itself as the world's best-selling liqueur. 

History of Baileys

Despite its name, Baileys isn't an old Irish drink carrying centuries of tradition with it. The Irish Times says the cream liqueur was actually the brainchild of South African marketing specialist David Gluckman and Englishman Hugh Seymour-Davies, who created the drink in London, not Ireland. The pair were working on what Gluckman calls in the Irish Times the "Irish brief," tasking the agency with inventing an alcoholic drink for export for International Distillers and Vinters (IDV). The brief didn't contain many details beyond keeping the inclusion of Irish whiskey low, says the news site.

Baileys was born after Gluckman and Seymour-Davies mixed Jameson Irish Whiskey with cream and Cadbury's drinking chocolate. The co-creator estimates in the article that the prototype mixture was around 25% alcohol by volume, similar to liqueurs like Tia Maria. The mixture was presented to IDV representative Tom Jago, he says, who liked it. In total, Gluckman also claims to have made around £3,000 ($3,800) from his creation.

There were further refinements to the recipe before Baileys eventually hit the shelves in the middle of 1973. It wasn't an immediate success, but after some work on the branding, including the word "chocolate" being dropped from its name, Gluckman told the Times that the drink eventually gained a foothold three years later. According to current owners Diageo, the 2 billionth bottle was sold in 2019 (via The Spirits Business).

R.A. Bailey doesn't exist

Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy — the individual whose signature adorns every bottle of Baileys doesn't exist in the real world. Instead, R.A. Bailey only exists as a marketing tactic aimed at providing the brand with a sense of authenticity. The Baileys name actually comes from Baileys Bistro, a restaurant in 1970s London the inventor of the cream liqueur stumbled across while he was trying to think of a name for his new drink (via The Irish Times). The initials, R and A, come from the R&A, a spin-off of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. 

Gluckman wrote in The Irish Times that he thought up a story about two feuding brothers — one owning a dairy farm and the other owning a distillery — who come eventually together to pioneer the drink. That idea stayed a fantasy of the creator, and R. A. Bailey was left as a singular fictional entity, Gluckman says in the article.

Baileys launched a limited-edition churros flavor

Baileys expanded its repertoire beyond the original recipe years ago, and there are currently 10 limited-edition flavors listed on their U.S. website. But none of those are flavored like churros. As things stand, that's something you can only get in Australia. The Daily Mail reports, before it launched Down Under, the limited edition flavor won a gold medal for "spectacular liquid" at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The sweet cinnamon-flavored beverage is available in stores across Australia. Baileys has yet to announce plans to release their limited edition churros flavor in other markets (via the Daily Mail).

If you're not living in Australia and regular Baileys bores you, the drinks brand has several limited edition flavors you can buy in the U.S. There are currently two options for people with dietary considerations: A dairy-free drink called Baileys Almande, and Deliciously Light, which contains 40% fewer calories. The current batch of limited-edition Baileys flavors consists of Salted Caramel, Strawberries and Cream, Espresso Créme, Red Velvet, Apple Pie, Vanilla Cinnamon, Chocolate Cherry, and Baileys Colada, which is piña colada flavored.

Baileys is shelf stable

Despite the high milk content, Baileys is shelf-stable and can be safely kept unopened at temperatures between 32 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Once opened, the bottle must be kept refrigerated to ensure freshness. The company also recommends keeping its product out of direct sunlight.

Whether opened or unopened, Baileys says a standard bottle of their original liqueur will stay fresh for two years from its bottling date. Other products may not last as long. A small, 100-milliliter bottle will only stay fresh for 18 months from the manufacturing date. The same applies to 100-milliliter bottles of espresso creme-flavored Baileys and 50-milliliter bottles of both the Baileys Strawberries and Cream and Salted Caramel varieties. 

Certain flavors can also have shorter shelf lives. Vanilla Cinnamon, Apple Pie, Colada, and Deliciously light will all last a total of 18 months, and a large bottle of Strawberries and Cream will last 20 months. The two-year shelf life only applies to products in glass bottles with anything in a plastic bottle having an 18-month shelf life.

What does Baileys taste like?

This might sound obvious, but when you drink it neat, Baileys tastes like cream and whiskey with a slight chocolatey undertone. The opaque, beige-colored liquid is incredibly rich, coats the palate, and hangs around for a while. After a few seconds, the whisky blend penetrates through the initial creamy flavor. The spirit itself isn't harsh at all. It's actually slightly fruity and may contribute to the noticeable hints of vanilla in the drink. The flavor of alcohol isn't missing but is far from overpowering. This Irish cream gives more of a warming feeling than anything else. Baileys is also very sweet and very heavy. It's definitely a winter drink.

When mixed, the flavor depends on what it has been mixed with. In coffee or hot chocolate, the cream takes a backseat and the flavor of the whiskey is far more pronounced. This may be because cream is something you may expect in those drinks anyway. At the other end of the spectrum is a staple of American bar rooms, the Irish Car Bomb shot. This controversial drink involves mixing Baileys with something it should never really come into contact with: Guinness. Down the concoction fast enough and the drink will taste like Guinness with a very creamy finish. Allow the two drinks more than a second to mix and the cream in the Baileys will split and curdle — producing some very strong, off-putting flavors.

How is it made?

Although the exact proportions and techniques are somewhat of a secret, Baileys' website says it takes cream from local Irish farms, adding "Irish whisky and the fine spirits," then finishes the drink with "rich chocolate and vanilla flavors (with other flavors and ingredients)". The labelling on the bottle is less vague: The liqueur contains fresh milk cream, sugar, alcohol, maltodextrin, milk protein, some flavorings that contain caffeine, Irish whiskey, coloring, an acidity regulator, and an emulsifier to stop the drink's components separating in the bottle (via Open Food Facts).

If you want to make your own Irish cream, you don't need all of that. You'll only need to add 1.5 cups of Irish whiskey, such as Jameson or Tullumore Dew whiskey, to a blender along with a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, 2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup, 2 teaspoons of instant coffee, and ½ cups of heavy cream. Blend the mixture on high until it is thoroughly combined and homogenous. Unlike actual Baileys, the homemade stuff won't keep for two years. However, it will last up to two weeks, if it is refrigerated.

How to drink Baileys

There are several ways you can enjoy Baileys. The simplest way, after drinking the Irish cream neat, is to use Baileys to enhance a warm drink like hot chocolate or coffee. Simply add a shot or two of Baileys to your drink, stir it in, and you're there. Baileys is also a key ingredient in a number of after-dinner cocktails, including the mudslide, which is a spin-off of the white Russian.

mudslide recipe is simple: add 2 ounces of Irish cream liqueur, 2 ounces of bourbon coffee liqueur and 4 ounces of crushed ice. You can also add whipped cream, cherries, chocolate syrup, crushed nuts, or finely grated espresso beans to the top, and make what is essentially an alcoholic chocolate sundae. 

You can also bake with Baileys. Its cream content, chocolate notes, and whiskey kick make it an ideal baking ingredient. You can combine Baileys with Guinness to make chocolate stout cookies with an Irish buttercream topping. The buttercream topping also works well with chocolate cake.

Baileys versus Kahlúa

Baileys and Kahlúa complement each other like coffee and cream. Mainly because one is a coffee liqueur, and the other is a cream liqueur. The two are featured alongside one another in a number of cocktails, including the mudslide. However, despite going well together and being the same style of drink, the two liqueurs are quite different. 

Kahlua, which was created in the 1930s, is the older of the two drinks. Visually, Baileys is a far lighter color and far more opaque than Kahlúa. Baileys, which contains heavy cream, is also a lot more viscous than Kahlúa, which has coffee as a primary ingredient.

Both the cream and coffee strongly influence the flavors of their respective spirit, so expect a strong creamy flavor with Baileys and a strong coffee flavor with Kahlúa. The two drinks also feature different spirits. Baileys is made with a blend of Irish whiskey while Kahlúa is made with rum. The choice of spirit has strong ties with each drink's origin. Baileys is billed as an Irish drink and contains one of Ireland's national spirits. Kahlúa was created on Mexico's east coast, so the rum provides some Caribbean influence.