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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 Kahlúa as an alternative ingredient for a White Russian, and even use them for baking. But our personal favorite use of 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 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 cocktail or an Irish white Russian.
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.
What to Look for When Buying Irish Cream Liqueurs
Irish cream liqueur is synonymous with a silky, smooth, and creamy taste. When you grab a bottle of this indulgent liqueur, the quality and flavor notes of the ingredients should shine through. Some brands have additional flavors included in them, such as honey, caramel, or coconut. Whatever your favorite is, pour some into a glass and enjoy.
These liqueurs are made with cream, Irish whiskey, chocolate, and sugar, but what other ingredients might be in that bottle? Check the ingredients on the label to see if there is anything else. And what about the people who want to drink it but don't want or can't have the dairy? Well, some manufacturers provide Irish cream liqueurs with a non-dairy alternative. Don't knock it until you've tried it out for yourself to see if you enjoy the nuttier taste of almond milk, for instance.
Best by Date / Storage
Several manufacturers put a best-by date on the bottle, so check that date before purchasing to ensure you have the freshest product on hand. Irish cream liqueur should be stored in a dark pantry or cupboard. Unopened bottles will last for around two years.
How do you serve Irish cream liqueur?
This liqueur is delicious served on its own with some ice, as a mixer in drinks such as mudslides or White Russians, in coffee, milkshakes, or hot chocolate.
Can Irish cream liqueur be used in baking?
This versatile liqueur is amazing in baking products. Try it in brownies, cheesecake, fudge, cakes, and more.
Does Irish cream liqueur need to be kept in the refrigerator?
Once the bottle is opened, store this liqueur in the fridge to help keep the best quality and taste. It will last about six months after opening.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
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.