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Irish cream liqueurs are, as you might guess, made with cream, but they are not a centuries-old tradition on the emerald isle. The genre of the liqueur only dates back to the 1970s when a stroke of creative genius was inspired by a surplus in both Irish whiskey and cream. In the original offing, the pair was flavored with a touch of Nesquik, as legend has it, and the resulting tipple is now known as Baileys.
Today, there are a number of brands with differing recipes and flavor profiles that are great as an after-dinner treat either as an accompaniment to, or substitute for, dessert. For the uninitiated, cream liqueurs have a shelf life. Most sealed products have two years from the time they are bottled and last only a few months after they are opened so you’ll want to use them quickly.
Thankfully, there are a number of delicious cocktails that call for a good splash of Irish cream. We like to mix them into milkshakes and mudslides, substitute Kahlua as an alternative ingredient for a white Russian, and even use them for baking. But our personal favorite use of an Irish cream is in an Irish Slammer (formerly known as a car bomb and renamed for obvious reasons).
So, if you’ve got a craving for a sweet, velvety adult beverage, here are the best Irish cream liqueurs.
Best Overall: Baileys Original Irish Cream
Baileys is the original and the iconic label by which all other Irish cream liqueurs are judged. In fact, we’d bet it’s likely the only Irish cream liqueur most drinkers can call by name. You’ll find it on the shelf at nearly every liquor store and behind most bars. Made from Irish dairy cream, whiskey, and spirits and flavored with chocolate and vanilla, it clocks in at a modest 34 proof 107 calories per ounce. You can sip it over ice, pop it in your coffee, use it in a bevy of decadent cocktails, or even a number of dessert recipes.
Best for Cocktails: Carolans Original Irish Cream
Carolans Original Irish Cream is made with Irish whiskey and farm-fresh cream and is sweetened with honey. Though it’s named for Turlough O’Carolan, a famed 17th-century musician, the label and recipe were both created in 1978 in County Tipperary, which is located in south-central Ireland. Rather than a dominant chocolate note that other brands boast, the honey flavor is more versatile for creating cocktails of different stripes. Plus, you can always add a bit of chocolate on your own if that’s the kind of drink you’re craving.
Best for Sipping: The Whistler Irish Cream
The Whistler Irish Cream is crafted with fresh Irish cream as well as pot still Irish whiskey that uses both malted and un-malted barley. The 38 proof liqueur is a tasty pour rich with notes of caramel, vanilla, and lip-smacking chocolate. The Whistler feels luscious and supple in the mouth, but what makes this a good sipping liqueur is the whiskey spice, which manages to shine through the sweetness for added depth. It’s also a beautiful way to spike a chocolate egg cream … if you’re into that sort of thing.
Best Budget: Ryan's Irish Cream
Truth be told, Irish cream liqueurs aren’t terribly expensive. But a dollar saved is a dollar earned and they add up. Ryan’s Cream is a great budget-friendly Irish-style cream liqueur. It’s a 34 proof dram of imported Irish whiskey infused with fresh cream, chocolate, and natural vanilla. While it’s not quite as velvety in the mouth on its own as some other brands, all the flavors you’d expect are there for spiking a pick-me-up or whipping up the tasty indulgence of your choice, be it a mudslide or an Irish white Russian.
Best for Irish Coffee: Kerrygold Irish Cream
So, here’s the thing. Irish cream is not actually part of the traditional Irish coffee recipe. The stalwart ingredients include Irish whiskey, sugar (or simple syrup), and cream. That said, replacing the sugar with an Irish cream liqueur adds both sweetness and depth. If you like a good Irish coffee, give Kerry Gold Superior Irish Cream a shot in your next cup. A blend of the brand’s supple Irish dairy cream, real chocolate, and whiskey, it boasts a rich, dark color and a velvety texture that will turn your cup of joe into delectable ambrosia.
Best Dairy-Free: Baileys Almande
For those with a lactose intolerance or others who just don’t want dairy in their diet, Baileys Almande liqueur makes a solid Irish cream substitute. The brand takes its spirit and infuses it with cane sugar-sweetened almond milk and adds a touch of vanilla to make a lovely treat. It’s vegan and gluten-free but there is some soy in the recipe, so those with allergies, take note. At only 26 proof, it’s great for those who prefer their potables less potent—plus it’s a nice addition to an iced Irish coffee.
Best Splurge: Five Farms Irish Cream
For a few dollars more Five Farms Single Batch Irish Cream Liqueur is a splurge both for flavor and as a conversation starter. Not only is it a brand most of your guests won’t know but the unique bottle is inspired by old-timey milk containers. The brand takes premium triple-distilled Irish whiskey and combines it with cream milked from five family-owned farms in County Cork. The expression was nabbed the Chairman’s Trophy at the 2018 Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Heavy in the mouth, for those of us who prefer to drink our dessert, every glass is chalked full of creme caramel, espresso, and a hint of toasted coconut.
When it comes to Irish cream liqueurs, Baileys Irish Cream (view at Drizly) is the most popular—with good reason—pick. If you're looking to experiment with some fun cocktails, we suggest Carolans Irish Cream (view at Drizly) for its versatile honey flavor that lends itself to a variety of concoctions.
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Nicholas McClelland is a passionate whisk(e)y drinker who has written about spirits for Men’s Journal, Fatherly, and Inside Hook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.