Exciting cocktail experiences often begin with experimentation. Trying a new combination, or a unique liqueur can often produce dramatic and delicious results. Yet I am always so perplexed by the dislike some people have for cream liqueurs.
While very few can resist a rich French press coffee with a swirl of Irish Cream on a chilly winter’s night, they are reluctant to enjoy the same drink by itself over ice. Holiday party-goers seem quite content to down glasses of everything from tequila to Sambuca, but when it comes to cream-based drinks, they shy away. Perhaps it is the sweetness, perhaps it is the dairy, or maybe over-indulgent teenage experimentation with the household liquor cabinet.
But if you take the time to explore the high-quality products in the market, and aren’t afraid to experiment with a few recipes, cream liqueurs can be quite a luxurious experience. Also, many producers will insist you can leave a bottle of cream liqueur sealed on the counter for months at a time without spoilage – but probably best to keep an opened bottle in the fridge.
All Irish creams share the same basic recipe. Producers begin with a quality Irish whiskey, add cream, and either sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk. Some may also add a little coffee. The process of marrying these ingredients is a fascinating one. Cream, of course, is known to curdle when introduced to acidic liquids such as citrus or tonic water. While alcohol doesn’t exactly have the same effect, cream liqueurs, such as Baileys, go through a process of emulsification involving vegetable oil to prevent the alcohol and cream from separating in the bottle, and most manufacturers resist the use of preservatives as the alcohol itself preserves the cream.
Of course, the granddaddy of all Irish creams is Baileys. Gilbey’s of Ireland created Baileys in 1974, as something new to offer to international consumers, and it became the first Irish cream available on the market. In addition to the classic, Baileys now comes in a variety of flavours including caramel, chocolate mint, vanilla cinnamon, and biscotti. Today, Baileys remains the world’s bestselling cream liqueur retailing for about $33 for a 750mL bottle. More than 150 Irish cream liqueurs exist in the worldwide market. Other quality Irish cream liqueurs available locally include Ryan’s, St, Brendans, Feeney’s, and Carolans.
Chocolate Cream Liqueurs
Many fine chocolate cream liqueurs are available on the market as well. Most start with either rich Dutch or Belgian chocolate combined with cream and a spirit such as vodka or bourbon. Godiva makes a white chocolate liqueur. Mozart Chocolate Cream is available in Canada from time to time.
A recent addition to the market, the Laura Secord Chocolate Cream Liqueur, is Canada’s answer to Baileys. A brand extension of the Laura Secord chocolate store chain, it is a delicious combination of milk chocolate and cream. At 17% alcohol, it is neither stupefying nor cloying in its sweetness. A delight over French vanilla ice cream. These liqueurs are a natural component to any decadent hot chocolate, and can liven up any ice cream dish (around $30).
Other Cream Liqueurs
Of course, cream liqueurs come in a variety of flavours, with a wide range of ingredients. South Africa’s Amarula (about $30) is a unique cream-based product. First produced in 1989 by the Southern Liqueur Company of South Africa, it combines cream, sugar and the distilled fruit of the African marula tree.
The succulent and tart fruit is a favourite food among South Africa’s elephant population. The brandy-like distillation is aged for two years in oak before being blended with the cream. Besides the smooth creamy texture, the liqueur offers distinct citrusy notes, with some dried fruit and walnut character. Best enjoyed on its own, Amarula can be a refreshing component to many cocktails.
On a cold winter’s night, my personal choice by the fireside has been the Cabot Trail Maple Cream ($26-30). The fine folks at Domaine Pinnacle in Quebec decided to honour trailblazer John Cabot, the first European to explore Canada. They combine a hand-selected mix of grain alcohol and rum with fresh dairy cream, then add pure premium maple syrup to the mix. The maple is what sets Cabot Trail above many others in the category. A natural sweetness combines with the alcohol for that warm glowing effect. It is heavenly over ice.
Baileys Vanilla Spiced Cocktail
- 1½ oz Baileys Espresso
- ¼ oz spiced rum
- ¼ oz espresso
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass, garnish with grated cinnamon.
Amarula Brandy and Cream
- 1½ oz Amarula Cream Liqueur
- 1½ oz light cream
- ½ oz Brandy
- Chocolate Shavings
Shake the Amarula cream liqueur, brandy and light cream together with ice. Strain into a tumbler filled with ice and garnish with chocolate shavings.
Classic Chocolate Martini
- 1½ oz Laura Secord Chocolate Cream
- ¾ oz vodka
Shake ingredients with ice in a martini shaker and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with chocolate shavings or drizzle chocolate sauce over the surface.