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November 23, 2016

2016 Best Tasting Irish Cream Liqueurs

by Jeff Ellingson

mollys-pour-shotWhat are the best tasting Irish Cream Liqueurs?  Before we get started lets start at the beginning.  In 1971 a group of managers at Gilbeys had an idea to create a unique Irish drink to sell to the International market.  By 1974 they had developed a process of combining fresh dairy cream with alcohol while still providing a 2 year shelf life.  This product Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur launched an entire new spirit category.  Today there are cream liqueurs made with rum, bourbon, scotch, vodka, and even tequila.  With hundreds of cream liqueurs now available Baileys still remains the best selling Irish cream liqueur and one of the worlds best selling spirits.  That said there are now over 100 Irish Cream Liqueurs produced today.  Believe it or not all of these Irish creams are produced at six or seven distillery’s in Ireland.  While I haven’t tasted every Irish cream liqueur, dozens are not offered for sale in North America, I have tried over 60, and reviewed over 50.  There may be someone who has sampled more Irish Creams, but I have seen no one review more.  I also like Irish Cream Liqueurs, to some reviewers, Irish Cream is just another spirit to review.  These fact alone make Best Tasting Spirits a leading source for Irish Cream reviews.  I feel the large sample size and the consistency of only one reviewer increases the accuracy of this list, but in the end it comes down to one mans opinion.  So what are the Best Tasting Irish Creams, and what makes them special?    When evaluating and comparing products solely based on taste, there can be several variables.  If I was putting together a list of the best tasting vodka I would be comparing some that are distilled from corn, some from wheat, and some from potato.  Irish Creams are no different, some are made with blended Irish whiskey, some single malt Irish whiskey, and some wine.  The flavors added include several different types of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coconut, butterscotch, honey, and a dozen more.  Each adds a different percentage of fresh dairy cream, and most add a neutral grain spirit.

Now that we have got that out of the way, lets start with my list of Best Tasting Flavored Irish Cream Liqueurs.  This category at one time appeared to be the growth market for Irish Cream sales.  Today it is a segment that has seen several departures.  Some of my favorites including Mollys Coconut, and several Baileys flavors are no longer available.  Others while still available are hard to find.  Five flavored Irish Creams earned at least Gold Medal awards.  Another category is Irish Country Cream.  By rule of law an Irish Cream must use both Irish Cream and Irish Whiskey.  Irish Country Creams are made with wine instead of Irish Whiskey.  These products typically weigh in at a slightly lower 13.9% alcohol content, compared to the 17% of most whiskey based Irish Cream’s.  I’m told these are more popular in the England.  I have included two Gold medal winning wine based Irish Country Creams.

Baileys Espresso:  Made with real Columbian coffee.  An incredible espresso burst of flavor.  Thick, creamy, and silky smooth.

Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon:  Made with Madagascar vanilla and cinnamon.  French vanilla pudding and cinnamon flavor.  Thick and creamy with a trademark Irish whiskey taste.

O’Dowds Irish Cream Pumpkin Spice:  Sold at Sam’s Club.  Cinnamon and nutmeg flavor with a creamy pumpkin milkshake taste.

Merrys Strawberry:  The strawberry milk entry builds to a strawberry milkshake peak.  Natural strawberry and fresh dairy cream taste.

Baileys Salted Caramel:  Sweet milk chocolate and rich caramel taste with a lightly salted caramel finish.  Most salted caramel beverages are a little heavy on the salt.  This one tastes just right.

O’Mara’s Country Irish Cream: This was the first Irish cream made with a wine base when it was introduced in 2008.  It is still one of the best tasting wine based.  The chocolate chip aroma is followed by milk chocolate, vanilla, and coconut taste.

Maloneys Irish Country Cream:  It is crafted and bottled by Terra at the building where Emmets and Baileys were once produced.  Made with rich dairy cream, premium milk chocolate, Madagascar vanilla, grape wine imported from Spain, and Irish spirits.  The milk chocolate entry is joined by vanilla and cream flavor.  It fades with grape wine taste.

When it comes to Irish Creams it is hard to refer to any as unflavored, so I will refer to these flavors as Original Flavored Irish Cream Liqueurs.  Gone are the days when the best way to compete with Baileys Irish Cream was on price.  This resulted in several lower quality and low priced Irish creams.  Another result was the rise of Irish Style creams.  Irish Style creams are not required to use Irish Whiskey or Irish cream.  They are usually placed next to genuine Irish Creams on liquor store shelves and most consumers don’t know the difference until they taste it.  Today the battlefield has changed dramatically.  The competition has stepped up their game and dozens of Private label brands have arrived.  One house, Terra, has always focused on quality first.  The results speak for themselves as they craft seven on my top ten list.  I initially wanted to rank these from 1-10 but I felt the only way to accurately rank them was to taste them again in unopened bottles side by side.  Time and refrigerator space prevented this.  All are Gold Medal or Higher award winners and in my opinion they are the 2016 Best Tasting Irish Cream Liqueurs.  I’ve provided tasting notes with each, and complete reviews of these and all of my Irish Cream reviews can be found at

Baileys Original Irish Cream:  Cream and dairy account for 50% of the content of each bottle.  Triple pot distilled whiskey supplied from the Old Middleton Distillery, neutral spirits, sugar, and a proprietary blend of natural cocoa extracts complete the bottle.  A premium cocoa and Ghirardelli chocolate brownie flavored entry opens up to a coconut brownie peak.  A smooth Irish whiskey follows, finishing with a creamy chocolate shake finish.

Coole Swan:  With a background of building the Baileys Irish Cream brand and creating new brands including Boru Vodka and Clontarf Irish Whiskey, 3 partners created 231 flavor combinations before they finally got the taste of Coole Swan just right.  Crafted with fresh double cream, Belgian chocolate, rich dark bittersweet cocao from Cote d Ivoire, Madagascan bourbon vanilla and single malt Irish Whiskey.  The decadent creamy chocolate entry is joined by single malt flavor.  No neutral spirit is added so the whiskey flavor shines through before finishing with Madagascan vanilla taste.  The first and only super premium Irish Cream, Coole Swan is well worth the extra $.

Kavanagh Irish Cream:  Sold through Total Wine and More.  The Shake Shack chocolate shake entry builds to a chocolate cocoa and creamy coconut taste.  Whiskey flavor arrives without the anticipated heat or burn.  Kavanagh is a very tasty thick and creamy Irish Cream.

Mollys: Terra crafts Irish Cream for several others, six on my top ten list.  Mollys is so good Terra kept it for themselves.  One third of each bottle is fresh dairy cream.  The chocolate ice cream entry is followed by smooth Irish whiskey.  As the whiskey fades I pick up a hint of coconut.

O’Dowds: Sold at Sams Club.  The initial fresh cream entry is joined by chocolate and caramel flavor.  A flash of whiskey follows before fading to a light creamy coconut conclusion.

Bradys: Made with triple distilled single malt Irish whiskey, dairy cream so fresh it goes from farm to Bradys bottle in two days, and natural vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch and coffee flavors.  The sweet dark chocolate entry is joined by creamy vanilla flavor.  Single malt Irish whiskey flavor arrives before finishing with creamy mocha taste.

Kerrygold:  This is created by the Irish Dairy Board now called Ornua.  It is distributed through a partnership between Belvedere S.A. and Ornua.  Yes this is the same Kerrygold behind the famous Irish butter and cheese so you know the cream is fresh.  Kerrygold is also made with oak aged whiskey, Irish spirits, and luxurious chocolate.  The milk chocolate and fresh cream entry builds to a fudge brownie peak.  It fades with Irish whiskey flavor followed by a creamy bittersweet chocolate and mocha finish.  There is more chocolate flavor in Kerrygold than any other Irish cream I’ve tasted.

Kirkland: This is the house brand of Costco and priced at $15.99 for a 1.75 liter bottle it is the industries  best bargain.  Kirkland is made with fresh dairy cream, Irish whiskey, whey spirits, and hazelnut with natural chocolate and caramel flavors.  The creamy milk chocolate entry is joined by hazelnut building to a chocolate caramel peak.  It fades with real Irish whiskey flavor that continues through a smooth caramel with a hint of coconut finish.

Callahans:  This is one of several Irish cream liqueur brands I’ve only seen at Total Wine and More.  It pours to a thick milky beige color.  The thick and luxurious chocolate and fresh cream entry is joined by whiskey flavor.  It fades with dark chocolate coconut cream and caramel flavor finishing with a little more whiskey taste than most other Irish creams.

Michaels: One of two Irish creams that are sold as Michaels Celtic Irish Cream, this one is made by Terra and it is only sold in Texas.  The aroma is chocolate ice cream, whiskey and fresh cream.  The chocolate cream pie entry builds to a dark chocolate and sweet Irish whiskey peak.  It fades with coconut milk shake taste and finishes with warm sweet and smooth Irish whiskey flavor.

Image of Molly’s Irish Cream courtesy of Terra, and yes it does taste as good as it looks.  I welcome all comments and suggestions.  Let me know your thoughts, and also let me know what your favorite Irish Cream Liqueurs are.


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