Name: Baileys Salted Caramel
Style: Irish Cream Liqueur
Numbers: 17% ABV
Producer: R & A Bailey & Co., Dublin, Ireland
I have a very strong affection for Baileys, and Baileys Flavors in particular. For three reasons. First, because they’re damned tasty. Second, because I think Baileys is a legitimate manufacturing and marketing phenomenon. And third, because I used to work on Baileys, and did a lot back in Blighty (slang for good ol’ Britain) to relaunch Baileys Flavors in 2008/9. I’m incredibly proud of the work I did (and the people I worked with), and just can’t resist taking a little time to reflect on the latest in a long line of Baileys Flavor launches.
We’ll get to the tasting bit shortly, but first, why am I so passionate about the “phenomenal” aspect? It’s been a while since I spurted off my fun facts about Baileys, but let’s see what I can remember…
Did you know…
- Baileys is made with 100% fresh ingredients and no chemical or artificial preservatives.
- Approximately one in four cows in Ireland (about 40,000 cows) produces cream that is used in Baileys. (And, because of the protein-rich cream needed, these could be called the top 25% of Irish cows – the cream of the Irish bovine crop if you will).
- The cream needs to be so fresh to make Baileys that it will be a maximum of 36 hours before the cream goes from cow to bottle.
- Baileys has a natural shelf life of two years, at room temperature. Two years! And no preservatives!
- Baileys is big. Very big. Probably much bigger than you think it is. It’s currently selling about 6.5 million cases a year, which is almost 15.5 million gallons. If we assume the average glass is 1.7oz (50ml), that’s 1.2 billion drinks of Baileys, or an average of 3.2 million glasses of Baileys being drunk every day.
- The size of Baileys means it is a top 20 spirit brand globally. But, unlike almost all its centuries old fellow top 20 brands, it is a mere 41 years old. That’s right, younger than Cameron Diaz.
As a professional marketer and spectator of the drinks industry, the story of Baileys is a fascinating one to me. Because it was created, from scratch, and in response to a market opportunity.
The Irish economy wasn’t so hot back in the early 70s (unlike now of course) so to boost export volumes the government offered tax breaks to companies who could create new exportable goods using Irish materials. Gilbey’s Of Ireland, a division of International Distillers & Vintners, saw an opportunity, and after plenty of good old fashioned brainstorming came up with an idea to mix cream (Ireland has traditionally had a significant dairy industry) with Irish whiskey and make a drink to appeal to women, who were the fastest growing segment of the market.
It took from 1971 to 1974 to perfect the product and the idea. The technology is the genius: essentially coating the cream with whiskey (and “neutral spirits”, ie. vodka) to create a stable liquid at room temperature. The process is patented, which is why no other cream liqueur has quite the taste or quality Baileys does.
Oh, and there’s a funny story about the name, always one of the hardest things to get right when making a new product. According to the mythology, the idea was to have a name that sounded Irish while not being twee. Which is harder than it probably sounds. The team at Gilbeys and their advertising agency agonized for weeks, until one day the MD of the agency walked past the Bailey’s Hotel in Kensington, London, on the way into work, and the rest is history. (By dropping the apostrophe any legal conflicts were avoided.)
I take some pride that Ireland’s biggest spirit (yup, about 30% bigger than Jameson) is supposedly named after a landmark in my home town.
Anyway, onto Baileys Salted Caramel. Having spent far too much time drinking beer of late, and being surrounded by snow after this year’s New York blizzards, I decided I could do with a sip of something indulgent. (Although, fun fact #10, because of its low alcohol content a healthy slug of Baileys has fewer calories than a middling strong gin and tonic or even – sorry ladies – a vodka and soda.)
I cracked open a bottle of the new Salted Caramel Baileys I had been given and poured it into a thick-sided tumbler. I’ll usually drink it with three cubes of ice, but to get the taste I left it at room temperature. The liquid is such a beautiful creamy brown color, and it’s a huge pleasure to watch it pour out. (That’s why we always used to mandate a slow pour shot in a Baileys commercial, such as this or this.)
The first thing that hits you about Baileys – any Baileys – is the incredible aroma. I’m going to try to avoid words such as “indulgent”, “creamy” or “luxurious”, but it’s hard because everything about the drink is just so…luscious. The warm whiskey smell is sharp and exciting, but the fresh dairy aromas and chocolate (Baileys is made with cocoa) are as inviting as a warm duvet on a cold Sunday morning. In the case of Salted Caramel there is also plenty of rich toffee and toasted sugar.
There is nothing quite like the mouthfeel of Baileys. As I briefly explained above, the alcohol in the emulsion essentially coats the cream, and as you taste it the alcohol dissolves first, leaving an explosion of sub-36 hour old Irish cream behind. It’s almost exhilarating. The texture is viscous, but the weight of the liquid is surprisingly light. There is a gentle saltiness, and I take my hat off to the developers who have created a pretty good replication of what it’s like to eat salted caramel, with the intriguing stand off between salty and sweet. The aftertaste of Baileys Salted Caramel is all cream, caramel, fudge and milk chocolate. It’s not hard to drink this stuff.
Baileys is not intrinsically a winter drink, though the vast majority is bought and consumed between November and March. And you can do tons of things with it – put it in coffee, over cake or tart, shake it with ice, even blend it with ice (which is well worth trying if you never have). So I’m kind of type-casting it by drinking it in February in the snow, over ice. But I’m a purist I guess.
So for those who are disappointed to learn that Baileys is not a centuries-old recipe, mixed by leprechauns in the light of the full moon on an Irish hillside, take comfort that it is one of the most delicious, well-made drinks you can put in your mouth. Enjoy your Baileys Salted Caramel – which is very definitely a fine addition to the Baileys stable – and don’t get salty about it. (Har har.)