It’s the most wonderful time of the year for people who like a little dairy cream with their Irish whiskey.
Or a little whiskey with their Irish dairy cream.
Ron Slater sees people from both camps at his store, Guidarelli’s Discount Wine and Liquors on Broadway in Schenectady. Both camps want Irish cream liqueur in their homes around the holidays.
“October, November, December, Irish creams probably sell three times as much as they do during the year,” Slater said of the dark brown bottles with green pastures and names such as Baileys, Carolans, St. Brendan’s and Emmett’s on their labels.
“People like the Baileys for coffee; they like it for after dinner, for ice cream,” Slater added. “Plus, they have so many different flavors now. Baileys just came out with a mint, a caramel, a coffee flavor. So they’re starting to get a wide range of people who didn’t really care for the Baileys flavor; now they can try a different flavor.”
The sensation began during the early 1970s when Andrew Bailey of Dublin’s R.A. Bailey & Co. made the first batch.
“It didn’t really reach popularity through Europe until it found its way into ski lodges,” said Dave Karraker, director of brand communications for Skyy Spirits in San Francisco, which distributes Carolans in North America.
“That’s when it really took off as an additive to coffee drinks. It’s not a brand that was ever immediately associated with the holidays. It was immediately associated with something that tastes really good in coffee and something that warms you up on a cold day.”
It also warms up manufacturers and retailers. Karraker said Irish creams probably total about $150 million in U.S. sales each year.
For some, a tumbler of Irish cream by the fireplace fits the winter season — the same way a cosmopolitan or gin and tonic becomes an appropriate bracer on the patio during hot August nights. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Baileys," said Slater, who sells about 25 12-bottle cases of the creams at year’s end. “Even people who don’t drink enjoy Baileys, a couple of shots.”
Mike Passmann, a salesman for Empire Liquors, remembers the first creamy shots. He said there were Irish cream rules when Baileys was first being sold in the U.S. in 1974.
“I was working in a store in Colonie; it was limited at the time,” Passmann said. “They would allow a liquor store to buy one case a week because it was so popular. We wouldn’t even put it on the shelf. We’d take the case we could buy in that week; we’d sell the entire case just by people coming in and asking for it.”
Passmann agrees with Slater when it comes to the popularity of Irish creams.
“What’s funny about Baileys is it sells everywhere,” he said. “I call on gin mills, biker bars. They order Jack Daniels. They order Southern Comfort. They order gin and vodka. And they order Baileys. I think its mostly because a guy goes into a bar, and he brings his girlfriend with him. It’s the women who are drinking it.”
But not just the women. Guys also order creamy glasses of white, which is 17 percent alcohol by volume.
“Maybe they won’t admit it, but everybody likes Baileys,” Passmann said. “It’s just a thick, creamy drink and you really don’t taste the liquor.”
Slater says Baileys inspired a bunch of other creamy drinks with a little kick. Quincy Market’s Toasted Almond is a liqueur with a nut taste. E&J’s Cask & Cream is dairy cream mixed with brandy, vanilla and butterscotch along for the pour; Godiva sells a line of chocolate-flavored liqueurs; Tequila Rose is a creamy combination of strawberry flavor and tequila.
High-octane versions of egg nog, such as Irish creams, are big sellers during the winter season.
Other liquor stores also see people getting their Irish up into pantry shelves when the weather turns cold.
“They seem to sell the most this time of year,” said Eric Schroder, owner of Parkwood Wines and Spirits in Clifton Park’s Parkwood Plaza. “It’s almost like having dessert in a glass.”
Rick Jacques, manager of Carman Wine and Liquor in Guilderland, says people buy Irish cream for gifts. Several brands arrive in boxes with glasses, or in ornate containers.
“It’s almost like the only time we sell it,” Jacques said. “They fly out of here in December and then come January and February, it’s like you don’t need it anymore.”
Slater said Irish creams often come with recipes for use in drinks, desserts and ice cream toppings. And he says Baileys’ expansion has hurt the smaller brands.
“Instead of buying a bottle of Emmett’s or Brendan’s, they’ll say, ‘Let me try a bottle of mint or a bottle of coffee,’ ” he said.
All Irish creams taste a little different. Karraker said there’s a hint of cocoa in Baileys; Carolans comes with built-in traces of honey. He’s glad for the yule sales, but said summer sales have increased with the popularity of blended drinks, almost milk shakes with a little kick.
After Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s, Karraker says there is still a demand for creamy drinks and diversions by the fireplace on cold January and February nights.
“At St. Patrick’s Day, there’s room for Irish creams as well,” Karraker said. “And it’s a cold-weather month.”