CHEERS | Cream liqueurs

(Milk) Shaking
things up

Cream liqueurs are rich and indulgent treats. Drunk on their own, over ice, poured into coffee or mixed in a cocktail it’s like pudding in a glass! But this category is undergoing something of a shakeup.

Baileys Irish Cream is the number one selling cream liqueur in the world – and has been since it first launched in 1974. The blend of cocoa, cream and Irish whiskey apparently uses a staggering 230 million litres of Irish full-cream milk every year! And it’s had the same milk supplier for more than 30 years.

As the category leader, Baileys has innovated almost continuously since the turn of the millennium. Wikipedia reports that it began introducing alternative flavour variants as far back as 2005 in order to cast its net wider and appeal to a broader audience. The first two new flavours launched were mint chocolate and crème caramel.

The number two spot on the global cream liqueur stakes is occupied by none other than Amarula, South Africa’s favourite creamy drink which celebrates the marula fruit.

They too introduced a variety of complementary flavours in recent years. The original hit the market in the 1980s and has an alcohol by volume level of 17%. Interestingly, the other flavour variants all clock in at 15.5% with Ethiopian Coffee Cream the first to be released to retail. Next came Amarula Raspberry, chocolate and African baobab in 2019 and then Vanilla Spice and Amarula’s own vegan version made with coconut milk. (Unfortunately, this vegan version is currently only available in travel retail.)

Other than the different taste derivations, alternative milk products are the biggest shake up to this particular beverage category. Plant-based anything is a growth market and in the beverage market alone, it was estimated that in 2021 the plant-based drinks category was worth $24 billion (R480 billion). recently carried an article about an American drink, Dottie May’s oat milk cream liqueur, developed by Kevin Burke and Paul Earle who are happy to be disruptors in the category. Interviewed by Jeanette Hurt, Burke said: “My background is beverage innovation, and I worked for Coca-Cola and Beam Suntory, and Paul is a professor at Northwestern, and the two of us asked where can we disrupt a category or what opportunities are out there? Two things jumped out at us: the rise of dairy-free milk and cream liqueurs, and we realized that no one’s really tried to re-invent that category.”

From 2022 to 2023 sales have grown 200% in the US market alone. “The dairy-free differentiation in our product is the number one driver,” Burke said about their oat milk-based drink. “People love our taste, love our bottle design, like that it’s vegan, but also having a dairy-free option when drinking alcohol or putting it into your coffee or espresso martini.”

Dottie also differentiates itself by using all-natural ingredients to flavour it: maple syrup, vanilla powder and cocoa powder. “We didn’t want anything artificial about it,” Burke said. “A lot of cream liqueurs have that chemical or artificial finish to them, and we didn’t want that. We wanted to be able to taste the whiskey.”