Creamy, sweet, and cozy, Irish cream may not be as hip as Chartreuse or classic as creme de cassis, but it still has a place on a home bar—especially if you’re partial to Irish-ing up your coffee or spiking a creamy dessert. It was originally invented in 1973 not by an innovative bartender or crafty home distiller in the green hills of the Irish countryside, but instead by the research and development branch of a wine and spirits distribution company in a London office. The goal: to create a product that appealed internationally using surplus alcohol and cream. The result: Baileys. According to one of the inventors, the whole process took about 45 minutes and a blender. But it worked. The flagship Irish cream was a success, and cocktails like the Mudslide and shots like the B-52 and the lewdly named Blow Job popped onto menus.
Today, there are many other Irish cream brands—there are even other types of Baileys beyond the original recipe including Red Velvet and Strawberries and Cream. Looking for your ideal Irish cream? Here are the best Irish creams to buy today.
Best Overall: Baileys
Region: Ireland | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla
The original Irish cream, Baileys is still the leader of the pack. “In my mind, there really is only one Irish cream and that is Baileys,” says bartender Jena Ellenwood of Dear Irving and Raines Law Room in New York, NY. “It is also the first alcohol I remember really liking.”
Made with Irish cream (from real Irish cows), Irish whiskey (and other spirits), and chocolate and vanilla flavors, it is sweet—but not overly so. Just the right amount of creamy, you can sip it on its own over a couple of ice cubes, pour it into a cup of coffee, or even drizzle it over a scoop of ice cream.
Best Budget: Saint Brendan's
Region: Ireland | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Milk Chocolate, Vanilla, Spice
Made in Derry using real cream and The Quiet Man Irish Whiskey, this Irish cream is named for Brendan of Clonfert, a traveling sixth-century Irish monk who sailed the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Garden of Eden, discovered an island, and had a run-in with a sea monster.
It’s a great substitute when you want something more budget-friendly than Baileys, but still retains the liqueur’s desired chocolaty notes and creamy body. Pour it into some iced coffee for an afternoon treat or pack a bottle to keep you warm on a long ocean journey inspired by the spirit’s namesake saint.
Best Splurge: Five Farms Irish Cream
Region: Ireland | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Maple, Caramel
Easily identified by its milk bottle-shaped container and ceramic swing-top cap, this Irish cream is for the true Irish cream connoisseurs out there who want a more craft product. Touting itself as “farm-to-bottle,” Five Farms is made with cream sourced from, you guessed it, five family-owned farms in Ireland’s County Cork. The brand prides itself on mixing the cream and the Irish whiskey within 48 hours of the cream’s collection. They also claim that their Irish cream is made with a higher percentage of whiskey than other brands, which comes through on the palate as warmth and spice. If Irish cream is your after-dinner drink of choice, splurge a little on this bottle.
Best for Sipping: The Whistler Blenders Select
Region: Ireland | ABV: 20% | Tasting Notes: Chocolate, Whiskey, Caramel
Crafted at the family-owned Boann Distillery in County Louth, Ireland, this liqueur is the first of its kind made with single-pot still Irish whiskey—whiskey made at just one distillery using a pot still. And at 40-proof, it’s one of the strongest Irish creams you can buy, with undeniable whiskey flavors and heft. This makes it a great pick for those who tend to think of Irish creams as being too sweet for their tastes. The whiskey cuts through, balancing out the cocoa flavors and creamy texture. Give it a chill, pour it straight into a weighty lowball, and sip slowly.
Best for Cocktails: Kerrygold
Region: Ireland | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Dark Chocolate, Fresh Cream, Spice
Yes, this is the same Kerrygold that produces the beloved Irish butter and cheese—so it stands to reason that they know their way around dairy. Launched in 2014, it’s a relatively new addition to the Irish cream family, but it already has its fan club.
“My favorite cream liqueur is for sure Kerrygold Irish cream,” says Ezra Star, general manager of Boston’s Drink. “It's what I use whenever I need one in a recipe. It's a very Irish dairy company and I'm a huge fan of their butter. I was very skeptical when they said they were coming out with one, but it has such a rich mouthfeel and is not overly sweet.” Pour it into coffee for an indulgent pick-me-up.
Best for Coffee: Carolans
Region: Ireland | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Cream, Baking Spices, Honey
Created just a few years after Baileys in 1978, this liqueur sets itself apart from the pack by using honey as the sweetener instead of cane sugar.
“Honey and Irish whiskey is such a wonderful, natural pairing. Add fresh cream from the most lovely cows and it’s like nectar,” says Abigail Gullo, assistant general manager and bar manager at Ben Paris in Seattle.
“I enjoy using Carolan’s Irish Cream as a modifier in cocktails, especially those that are coffee-based,” says Mimi Burnham, bartender at Avital Mixology and hospitality consultant at Smart Olive NYC. The addition of honey, she says, makes it “a great compliment to whiskey cocktails because of its clean notes.”
Related: The Best Coffee Liqueurs
Best Non-Dairy: Baileys Almande
Region: Ireland | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Nutty, Vanilla, Cream
This non-dairy version of Baileys is made with almond milk and flavored with vanilla—and is definitely worth trying. The almond milk base lends a light nutty flavor to the liqueur, making it delightfully cozy. It’s just different enough from the original to be interesting while still retaining the undeniable essence of Baileys.
Though still creamy, the liqueur is lighter than its full-dairy big brother, which makes it extremely versatile in cocktails. It’s good in classic coffee-based cocktails but also works with fruit. Try it in a White Russian, stirred into iced coffee, or even blended into a take on a frosty Pina Colada.
Best for Hot Chocolate: Emmets
Region: Ireland | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Cocoa, Nuts
“My favorite Irish cream is Emmets Irish Cream,” says bartender Anthony Baker (aka “the Professor”). And though it’s good simply poured into a cozy drink, he likes to go the extra step and add it to whipped cream for an extra-decadent Irish Coffee or, our personal favorite, hot chocolate.
“It has notes of vanilla and cocoa beans, which is an amazing component for my homemade whipped cream recipe,” he says. “Rather than having the boring store-bought whipped cream, you can make your own homemade whipped cream, adding some hints of unique flavors with Emmetts. This way, that first sip doesn’t have to be some boring whipped cream atop; it could be a lovely and smooth whipped cream that adds a touch of Irish throughout your entire cocktail experience.”
Related: The Best Whipped Cream Dispensers
Best for Milkshakes: Sean's
Region: Ireland | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Fresh Cream, Root Beer
When it comes to spiking a milkshake, nothing is better than Irish cream. Already creamy, it doesn’t thin the dessert drink out, only adding to its indulgent texture. And Sean’s vanilla-heavy flavor is perfect with a variety of ice creams, from vanilla to chocolate to strawberry—and, of course, coffee. Simply blend it into your favorite milkshake or try it in a frozen Mudslide, made with vodka, coffee liqueur, Irish cream (Sean’s), and vanilla ice cream. Whirl everything together and top with chocolate shavings for a drink that will both satisfy your sweet tooth and slake your thirst for a stiff cocktail.
Though it’s hard to beat the original Irish cream at its own game, Baileys is not the only bottle worth trying on this list. If you’re looking to try something a bit more high-end, pick up a bottle of Five Farms (view at Drizly). Or, if you love your Baileys but still want a little change, give the Baileys Almande (view at Drizly) a try. As we said, it’s just different enough.
How do you drink Irish cream liqueur?
Irish cream can be sipped on its own (room temperature or chilled), poured over ice, or mixed into a cocktail. The most popular Irish cream cocktails include versions of Irish Coffee, Mudslides, B-52 shots, and Blow Job shots. It’s also used to spike iced coffee, milkshakes, hot coffee, or hot cocoa.
How long does it last?
Irish creams should last about two years from the manufacture date. And though the alcohol in the mix does mean the liqueur is shelf-stable, we’d recommend storing it in the fridge for a better drinking experience—but that’s up to personal preference.
What is it made of?
In its purest form, Irish cream is made with Irish whiskey, fresh cream, sugar, and chocolate. Of course, if you check the ingredients list on the back of a bottle of Baileys or another one of the larger brands, you’ll see a few extra, more unpronounceable ingredients as well.
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Justine Sterling is an experienced spirits writer and cocktail recipe developer. She has been writing about the wide world of drinking—from new spirits to cocktail trends to wines and beers—for over a decade. Her home bar is always stocked with a range of spirits, from the staples to the downright strange (including a few fringe Baileys flavors), and she has serious opinions about Martinis.
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