Irish cream is that rare alcoholic concoction that can please everyone. Think of a chocolate milkshake with whiskey in it—this stuff is inherently delightful (and a little dangerous.) The dessert-like nature of this liqueur lands it squarely in the guilty pleasure zone for many cocktail purists. You probably won't find it at a speakeasy bar, but it's just perfect for a holiday party. (Or a handmade gift.)
What's Available to Buy?
When most people think of Irish cream, they think of Baileys. It's a light caramel color with a pleasantly smooth cream flavor, light hints of cocoa, and a whiskey kick. You can find it for about $22 per liter, but some lesser-known brands like Carolan's and St. Brendan's can hold their own for a couple bucks less. Baileys is the top-selling liqueur in the world, so you won't have trouble finding it.
All the commercial Irish creams I've tasted have a lingering artificial flavor that reminds me of plastic. It makes me suspicious: Exactly how they do they get a mixture of dairy and alcohol so silky? And Baileys lasts for two years without refrigeration—it tastes and looks exactly the same on day one as it does on day 730. While that's awfully convenient, I'm betting a lot of ingredients are included just to make it stay young and pretty.
If Baileys is your idea of perfection, you might be disappointed by making your own. But if you're open to a new Irish cream experience, homemade will win you over. DIY Irish cream tastes richer and fresher than the store-bought kind (though it doesn't last as long or look quite as uniform.) It's like the difference between a Chips Ahoy cookie and a freshly baked homemade chocolate chip cookie. Your own batch also will cost you at least 5 dollars less than the packaged stuff.
Homemade Irish cream is also a flexible recipe that allows for tweaking as you go along. All the ingredients are blended together at once without any cooking, so you can sample it during the process and adjust flavoring to your personal taste. Want more chocolate or whiskey? Go for it! Allergic to nuts? Skip the almond extract. Want an even richer drink? Blend in some eggs. Unless you do something weird like add soy sauce or vinegar, there really is no way to make this stuff taste bad. (I didn't actually try any of those, so for all I know, they're genius additions. But probably not.)
Get the Recipe
Irish cream is best on its own, added to coffee or spiked with some additional whiskey or vodka. You can even use it in place of cream in the Dude's favorite drink, the White Russian. (Just mix an ounce of Irish Cream with an ounce of vodka and 2 ounces of Kahlua over ice.)
Get some adorable little glass bottles and fill 'em up for homemade holiday gifts. Irish cream just might give eggnog a run for its money as the official Christmas drink.
About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.