Baileys Irish Cream is the world’s top-selling liqueur, so it’s safe to say that people like it. They really like it. This sweet, milky, somewhat-chocolatey drink is heaven on earth mixed with coffee, but it’s also divine on its own over ice. The Irish export can be found at practically every one of America’s best bars (and likely the worst ones, too), which makes it hard to believe that less than 50 years ago, it was barely a glint in anyone’s eye. To see how it went from oddity to commodity, here are 20 things you didn’t know about Baileys.
South African native David Gluckman was tasked with creating a new brand for International Distillers and Vinters (IDV), which later became spirits powerhouse Diageo, to export from Ireland. One morning in May of 1973, he and his business partner Hugh Reade Seymour-Davies ran to a London supermarket, where they bought a bottle of Jameson and a tub of single cream (a British dairy product).
The idea of applying dairy to an alcoholic beverage was sparked by Gluckman, who helped create the Kerrygold brand in the early 1960s. Kerrygold produces Irish butter and cheese, and is still very popular today.
Gluckman put the concoction in a Schweppes tonic bottle and brought it to an IDV executive named Tom Jago. The company was strongly focused on wine, sherry, gin, whiskey and vodka, but the visionary Jago (who also played a role in developing Malibu Rum and Johnnie Walker Blue) loved the drink, so he gave it a chance.
In coming up with a name for the brand, the creative team wanted it to be Anglo-Irish (relating to both Britain and Ireland) instead of just Irish because they thought something like “O’Reilly’s Irish Cream” would’ve sounded whimsical. After stumbling upon a restaurant in London called Bailey’s Bistro, Gluckman called Jago and proposed they call the beverage “Baileys.” He instantly bought it.
Because Baileys’ production plant did not yet exist, the first label bore a fake address for “The Dairy Distillery, County Monaghan.”
Before Baileys was brought home to Ireland, it was tested in Britain. An all-male group drank it down, but one particularly boisterous man felt uncomfortable about it. “I’m a pint drinker,” he protested. “And when I’ve had enough beer I move to ... Scotch or vodka.” He added that Baileys is “a girl’s drink.” The other men nodded in agreement — although their glasses were empty.
After the men had their taste, a focus group of women tried Baileys. One said it looked and tasted like kaolin and morphine, an over the counter medicine for diarrhea.
After the focus groups proved unsuccessful, Gluckman put two bottles behind the bar at a pub called Allsop Arms. After a short time collecting dust, it was discovered by two policemen, who polished off a whole bottle. That was all the evidence Gluckman needed to make the trek to Dublin, where the brand launched one year later.
The “R&A” in R&A Bailey & Co. (the company named on the back of the bottle) doesn’t really mean anything. In coming up with the initials, Gluckman glanced down at the sports page of The Guardian and saw a headline mentioning the R&A, the governing body for golf outside of North America, and ran with it.
In addition to Baileys Irish Cream, David Gluckman helped create Le Piat d'Or (a sweet wine), Purdey's (a soft drink), Aqua Libra (a sparkling water that was reportedly Princess Diana’s favorite drink), Tanqueray Ten Gin, Cîroc Vodka, Coole Swan (a white chocolate cream liqueur) and more.
Although drinks industry tycoon Abe Rosenberg famously predicted that it would never sell in the U.S., Baileys quickly became the top-selling liqueur in America and the rest of the world.
In the U.K., Baileys largest competition was Advocaat, an egg-based Dutch liqueur. One popular cocktail recipe, the Snowball, contained Advocaat mixed with lemonade. Baileys’ decided to emulate it by combining the liqueur with lemonade as well, but it ended up curdling into a “chewable dirt substance” that one bartender called “gorilla snot.”
The Cement Mixer is a popular “prank shot” that consists of one part Baileys and one part lime juice. First you take the shot of Baileys (holding it in your mouth) quickly followed by the lime juice. When you swish the two together in your mouth you’ll feel it begin to curdle and stick to your teeth like cement.
Baileys is sold and served in every country where alcohol is legally consumed.
Each year, 220 million liters of fresh milk are used to make the cream found in Baileys. This comes from 38,000 dairy cows on 1,500 family-owned farms located primarily on the east coast of Ireland.
Baileys claims it is the only cream liqueur that guarantees taste for two years from the day it was made, opened or unopened, in the fridge or pantry, as long as it’s stored away from direct sunlight in temperatures ranging from 32 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The whiskey used in Baileys acts as a natural preservative for the cream, so technically it’s shelf stable.
Currently, Baileys offers its original chocolate-vanilla variety along with Salted Caramel, Espresso Creme, Chocolate Cherry, Vanilla Cinnamon and non-dairy Almande Almondmilk, plus seasonal or limited-edition flavors including Strawberries and Cream and Pumpkin Spice.
The top 10 markets for Baileys are the U.S., Great Britain, Global Duty Free, Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, Austria, France and Russia.
People around the globe consume approximately 2,300 glasses of Baileys every minute of every day, both in the comfort of their own homes as well as at the 75 most popular bars in America.
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