The cream of the liqueur crop

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

In the end it is the salted caramel cream liqueur that breaks me. It’s new, an own­la­bel su­per­mar­ket drink made with sea salt, sin­gle Ir­ish malt and lash­ings of thick dou­ble cream and it’s just so de­li­cious that I am com­ing out and say­ing it: I have a se­cret thing for cream liqueurs. I have spent years pre­tend­ing not to be in­ter­ested in them, covertly or­der­ing Bai­leys on ice in a pub at the end of the night, as if it’s dessert, when I think no one else will no­tice (usu­ally ev­ery­one else jeers for a bit then fol­lows suit). I mean, it’s like say­ing, “I like look­ing at photographs of pup­pies and kit­tens,” isn’t it?

Ap­par­ently it was ever thus. When Bai­leys was first cre­ated back in the early Sev­en­ties, it bombed with the fo­cus groups who wrote it off as “girly” (they also com­plained that it tasted of “kaolin and mor­phine”.) The project went ahead be­cause Tom Jago, who was in charge of it at In­ter­na­tional Distillers and Vintners (IDV), popped the neg­a­tive re­ports in his brief­case and de­cided to ig­nore them.

Cream liqueurs them­selves are pretty hard to ig­nore at the mo­ment. Bai­leys has just launched a new one, called Cho­co­lat Luxe made with ac­tual Bel­gian choco­late (al­though I note there is only 30g of it in each bot­tle), fused with the orig­i­nal Ir­ish cream. Sev­eral of my wine friends have been rav­ing about this one (warn­ing: never try to taste it in a glass you’ve been us­ing to taste wine – it splits dis­gust­ingly), par­tic­u­larly when it is mixed with Stoli Caramel to make some­thing like a liq­uid Mil­lion­aire’s Short­bread. I don’t quite like it enough – the choco­late doesn’t taste right. But I do like Mer­lyn. This is bou­tique stuff: a cream liqueur made by Pen­deryn in the Bre­con Bea­cons Na­tional Park, us­ing spirit dis­tilled from malted bar­ley and fresh dairy cream. I was given a small nip to try in Vagabond, an in­de­pen­dent wine mer­chant in Lon­don, when I popped in there at about 11 o’clock one morn­ing. It went down aw­fully eas­ily. “De­li­cious, isn’t it?” said the man who had poured it for me. All this en­cour­ages me to feel that com­ing out is go­ing to be OK.

What is more, they sell 82mil­lion bot­tles of Bai­leys a year (it now comes in sev­eral flavours, in­clud­ing cof­fee and bis­cotti — though my ad­vice is to stick to the orig­i­nal) so it’s not ex­actly just me.

Oddly, though, the dan­ger­ously ad­dic­tive and much-copied taste of Bai­leys wasn’t con­sumer-driven, Tom Jago tells me when I meet him to dis­cuss it. “It came about sim­ply to get rid of some stuff. It was 1973, I had a bud­get from IDV of £10,000 a year to think of new prod­ucts. There were some new Ir­ish laws that gave very favourable tax breaks, and IDV had just been taken over by Grand Met­ro­pol­i­tan which owned Ex­press Dairies – and a great big milk fac­tory in Cork so there was a lot of cream…”

Jago says he “gave the co­or­di­nates of the brief” to David Gluck­man, a South African who had the key idea for the brand, and Gluck­man’s old Eto­nian busi­ness part­ner, Hugh Sey­mour-Davis.

They have dif­fer­ent mem­o­ries of how the drink came to­gether. In Jago’s ver­sion of the story, there’s a Brandy Alexan­der drunk in a bar. In Gluck­man’s, the idea to mix cream with Ir­ish whiskey came from his back­ground as an ac­count ex­ec­u­tive in an ad­ver­tis­ing agency, cre­at­ing the Ker­ry­gold but­ter brand: his plan was to pig­gy­back on the feel­good, lush fields and happy cows mood.

Bai­leys – the name was stolen from a restau­rant on Greek Street in Soho be­cause it sounded right — is now huge, of course, re­quir­ing the pro­duc­tion of some 275mil­lion litres of fresh milk a year to sup­ply enough cream. That’s quite a lot of happy-look­ing cows.

One of the cu­ri­ous things about cream liqueurs is that they taste more al­co­holic than they ac­tu­ally are. “Hav­ing the cream in your mouth, it’s like hav­ing a mouth full of mar­bles,” says Jago, “And the whiskey sit­ting around them, so you feel the hit.”

Get­ting the chem­istry to work isn’t easy ei­ther – bar­tenders com­plained that they couldn’t get any­thing out of the early bot­tles of Bai­leys shipped to the US – the cream had churned it­self solid en route.

Any­way, now I’ve come out about lik­ing cream liqueurs I can spend Christ­mas drink­ing them. And as for photographs of kit­tens and pup­pies, I no­tice the Twit­ter ac­count Cute Emer­gency – pic­tures of an­i­mals “for when you need some­thing to im­me­di­ately cheer you up” — has more than three quar­ters of a mil­lion fol­low­ers, in­clud­ing the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Al Jazeera Amer­ica and Louise Men­sch.

Maybe they’d both like a bot­tle of Salted Caramel Ir­ish Cream Liqueur as well?


Welsh wizard: Stephen Davies, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Pen­deryn Dis­tillery, which makes Mer­lyn cream liqueur

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