Irish cream liqueurs: a history
Cream liqueurs often conjure up images of cosy firesides, special occasions and a touch of luxe decadence.
But there’s been a shift in consumer taste that is encouraging reinvention amongst liqueurs.
Drinks that we can savour, sip and appreciate are all the rage, with people appreciating products that deliver real quality over cheap, artificial ingredients.
Coole Swan is proud to deliver a modern premium Irish cream liqueur that is lighter, fresher and much easier to mix into your favourite cocktails. After all, if you’re going to enjoy a drink, make sure it’s got the best ingredients and flavour.
Perfect for any occasion
Liqueurs are the perfect way to celebrate any occasion, have as a treat, add a touch of luxury or add to a cocktail for a glorious flavour hit… the list goes on. They’re not only the alcohol industry’s biggest category, but they’re also steeped in a lot of history.
While they may sound like a posh tipple, they were actually developed for medicinal purposes. Read on to find out about their rich heritage – and to discover how Irish cream liqueurs elevate any occasion by tantalizing our taste buds.
The origin of Irish liqueurs
In approximately 1,000 AD, travelling Irish Monks learned the art of perfume distilling. This technique was brought back to Ireland – and by the 13th century adapted to create a drinkable spirit flavoured with mint, thyme or anise called “uisce beatha” (“water of life’’).
The first mention of how monks blended ‘’Irish Whiskey’’ and fresh dairy cream dates back to the 14th century. Believe it or not, its primary use was in the treatment of dementia, memory improvement and to reduce inflammation of the skin.
So, what exactly is a liqueur?
The word liqueur is derived from the Latin liquifacere. For those of you not familiar with Latin, this means “to dissolve”. And here’s a fun fact: they’re actually historical descendants of herbal medicines.
Liqueurs are sweetened spirits with different flavours and extracts added whose alcohol content must range from 14% to 50% by volume (28%–50% U.S. proof). A liqueur must also combine its base spirit, which can be whiskey, rum or gin for example, with sugar, fruits, herb or spices. Importantly liqueurs are more flavour forward than spirits and this makes them ideal cocktail ingredients.
Where did liqueurs begin?
If we travel back to the 13th century, records reveal that monks in Europe used to infuse distilled spirits with fruit and herbs. There are also records of travellers who remarked on the alcohol that tasted of ‘’sweet fruit’’. Liqueurs have been called elixirs, crèmes, balms and oils – and have been used over the centuries as medicines, tonics, love potions and even anaphrodisiacs.
Liqueurs throughout the ages
When crafted carefully, liqueurs can prove to endure the test of time. Here are a few famous examples that are still enjoyed today.
Chartreuse is a blend of over 130 herbs, plants and flowers. It is aged in distilled alcohol and was first commercially produced by French Carthusian monks in the 1740s from a recipe dating back to 1605. The name Chartreuse stems from a monastery in Grenoble in France.
Limoncello is Italy’s most famous liqueur and dates back to the Middle Ages when fishermen and farmers drank it to warm up in the morning. Others say that this liqueur originated from inside a monastic convent for the monks to enjoy in between prayers. It was first commercially produced in 1945 and is still a firm favourite with locals and tourists.
Grand Marnier dates back to 1880 and is one of the most popular liqueurs ever created. Auguste Escoffier used it as an ingredient for his renowned culinary masterpiece, Crepe Suzette. And Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz was also known to be so impressed with it, that he was among the first to serve it at his hotels.
Baileys, together with “Irish Mist” were the first commercially produced liqueurs. Bailey’s was actually created in the 70s by Tom Jago at International Distillers and Vintners, known today as Diageo. While looking for a ‘’distinctively’’ Irish spirit for introduction to the International Market, he helped develop the world’s first Irish cream – that went on to become the world’s best-selling liqueur.
The cream of cream liqueurs
Irish cream liqueurs come in many shapes, sizes and qualities. As wine has its regions and grape varieties, whiskey has its age and cask – Irish creams have their own indicators of quality.
In 2017, Irish cream liqueurs were granted a European Geographical Indication (EGI). EGI identifies a spirit drink as originating from a country or region. To be a true Irish cream liqueur, a key component is the definition of cream – you must ONLY use Irish dairy cream. A true Irish cream is also made of whiskey. Wine or white spirits can make a liqueur – but do not come close to the original and best Irish cream liqueurs.
Innovation in the Irish cream liqueur category
Once thought of as a very traditional and staid category, even this type of drink can be re-imagined for a modern world.
Coole Swan, an independently owned and family-run premium Irish cream liqueur relies on the special properties of its three core ingredients: whiskey, chocolate and cream. And when it comes to ingredients, we use only the finest single malt Irish whiskey, deliciously creamy Belgian white chocolate and fresh dairy cream from our own herd of cows. We’d definitely recommend that you try it.
The enduring nature of liqueurs
Liqueurs have been at the heart of many popular cocktails through the ages. Think about it – where would your classic Espresso Martini, Baby Guinness or Brandy Alexander be without a liqueur? Not only versatile, liqueurs are also the most open to innovation and evolution.
The complex and deep history of the liqueur endures. There is no end to the possibilities, no limit to the horizons and no new idea that is out of reach.
So, raise a glass (or two) of your favourite liqueur and enjoy a taste of this enduring and timeless classic.