Notes on...

The enduring appeal of Baileys

4 December 2021

9:00 AM

4 December 2021

9:00 AM

For many, the first Baileys of the year heralds the start of the festive season; to others, it’s a drink to be consumed only when the temperature drops into single digits. A bottle lasts up to 24 months — opened or unopened, refrigerated or not — and it is an essential component of any worthwhile drinks cabinet. A few weeks ago, Morrisons announced a Christmas deal: Baileys at £10 a litre. To a Baileys fanatic like me, it was quite the call to action. I looked up my closest store — a 38-minute walk away. This seemed a stroke of luck considering the scarcity of Morrisons in London; perhaps it was a sign. Arriving at the super-market, I made a beeline for the spirits section and bought two litres of Baileys. That should see me through the month.

There are few drinks as versatile as Baileys Irish Cream. A glug in a hot chocolate or a coffee gives either drink a kick; mixed with Kahlúa, it makes for a delightful ‘Baby Guinness’ shot. But a (very) generous pour served over ice to replace a pudding, or as a nightcap, gives you Baileys at its purest.

David Gluckman, one half of the pair of consultants for drinks company Diageo who came up with the idea in the 1970s, claims that the initial thought behind Baileys Irish Cream ‘took about 30 seconds’. Experimenting with his business partner, Hugh Seymour-Davies, he wondered whether there was something in Ireland’s rich dairy heritage that they could repurpose for a new drink. Hugh suggested a whiskey and cream blend and the duo immediately headed off down Berwick Street in Soho to buy the ingredients. The first draft, Gluckman claimed, was ‘intriguing’ but ‘bloody awful’. Then they added sugar and chocolate powder, and a legend was born. The whole process took 45 minutes.

In the 47 years that Baileys has been available, new flavours have come and gone. Some were runaway successes (mint and hazelnut were notable favourites). Some, such as 2018’s strawberries and cream offering, were aberrations to any purist.

Baileys has also spawned imitations: Lidl has its ‘Irish Cream Liqueur’, while Aldi uses a small seaside town in Northern Ireland, Ballycastle, in its branding to make the drink sound more authentic. But real fans know the difference. Baileys was one of the first alcoholic drinks I learned to love — probably because of its close resemblance, both in flavour and appearance, to chocolate milk. It doesn’t taste like a spirit (it’s 17 per cent abv.), so when, as teenagers, my friend and I snuck a bottle from her parents’ drinks cabinet and got steadily — almost accidentally — drunk in her bedroom, we didn’t expect the accompanying hangover.

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