Sunday, January 27, 2008

Coole Swan

I get samples. I write stories. Sometimes, the two intersect.

I had a story to do on Irish spirits for Massachusetts Beverage Business for the March issue (of course, when else would you do an Irish spirits story?), and I remembered a press release we got at Malt Advocate for a new Irish cream liqueur, Coole Swan. Always looking for stuff other writers don't get, you know, it makes me more valuable to my editors, so I contacted the Coole Swan people. They're coming to the Massachusetts market in the Fall (Coole Swan is only available in New York for now), so I set up an interview. Pretty interesting people, very experienced, and -- here's the key point -- experienced with Baileys.

Baileys is the iconic brand of Irish creams, the original, and by far the best-seller: it's actually the 7th best-selling spirit in the world. The road behind it is littered with the crushed remnants of attempts to siphon off some of its share of the market. I was skeptical of Coole Swan's chances. But the folks who created the drink are all Baileys graduates who looked at that brand and saw an opportunity; not to come in under Baileys and try to catch people who wanted to pay less for an Irish cream, but to look at Irish cream as a luxury drink, and pitch above Baileys.

They did everything they could to make the very best Irish cream they could: Madagascar vanilla, Cote d'Ivoire chocolate, and single malt Irish whiskey. They put a lot into the design of the bottle, including making it translucent and not at all shaped like a Baileys bottle, which most competitors have slavishly imitated. And there's not caramel coloring: Coole Swan looks like cream. "We bought the best fresh Irish cream we could find," a partner told me, "why would we want to hide it?"

Well, it's all very interesting. But it doesn't mean anything if the stuff's no good. I'll make no secret of it: I like Irish cream. I really liked the Bushmills cream, for a large part because you could actually taste the whiskey in it. So when an unsolicited bottle of Coole Swan showed up in my mailbox (after the story had already been written and submitted), it was right in the fridge pretty soon thereafter. Cathy and I had some when she got home from work Friday. Now that things have calmed down a bit on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I'd take the leisurely chance to write about it.

It is just a touch on the tan side of cream, I assume from the chocolate (and it is real chocolate and cocoa, I was assured, not flavors). The aromas promise just what you read and just what you'll taste: whiskey, vanilla, chocolate, and a creamy milkiness. When you sip, you find out that they weren't kidding about the whiskey. It has not been cleverly hidden; they're proud of what they're putting in here and the whiskey is bright and vibrant in the cream. But the cream's there too: it's rich, and chocolatey, and coats the mouth without being disgusting. And it most definitely does not taste fakey at all.

I'm not going to drink Irish cream every day, or even every week. But when I do want one, I'm going to reach for this till it's empty, and when I'm next in New York, I'm going to make sure there's room in my bag to bring one home: prices are running around $25.

7 comments:

Eric Trimmer said...

Irish creme liqueurs make me uneasy.

I think they are delicious, and if there is a fresh bottle at a party I might pour myself some.

But often I find it in an already opened bottle that has been gathering dust in the cabinet since who knows how many Christmas parties ago...

How long can an opened bottle go before it is no longer safe to drink?

I did some Googling on the subject and found an interesting article from the Chicago Tribune:

Here's the link:

http://www.hotel-online.com/News/PR2007_1st/Jan07_AgeingLiquor.html

And here's an excerpt:

"What is it? A liqueur made with Irish whiskey and dairy cream.

Hanging around the bar for ... : About 2 years

Unique characteristics: Dark bottle.

What the expert says: "It's kind of like if you have custard or creme brulee in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. It has that old custard smell. It's just not fresh. It's faded. ... If most people drink that very cold or on the rocks, they would be fine."

Expert assessment: Faded but fine"



That makes me feel a little better, I guess...

bill mc said...

Sweet, its about time we got some of this stuff only in NY, now do you mean the city or the state??

Lew Bryson said...

Eric,

They must be refrigerated after opening, and they're good for about two months after opening. But safe? They're pretty safe, with the booze in them. The thing to do is open them, drink them, and buy more.

Bill...you know the answer. It's NYC, I'm afraid. The stuff was evidently a bigger success in Ireland and the EU than they expected, and supply is tight.

Meaux said...

Coole Swan is delish! I can't wait for it to get to Boston!

Anonymous said...

Bought Coole Swan on my way out of Ireland this past month. I am in love. I shared my bottle with many friends at a party after our trip. not one person said no, and not one person regretted drinking it. I only wish i could get more. I am in Oregon and will have to special order it. BUT it is WORTH IT!! I am now converted from Baileys to Coole Swan

Lowell said...

I picked up a bottle of this in London over Christmas after trying a free sample. I was surprised by how light and flavorful it was compared to Bailey's, which I like but always comes across heavy and chemical. Coole Swan is definitely going to be my Irish cream of choice from now on.

Anonymous said...

As I was leaving Shannon I was offered a free sample it was delicious so I picked up a bottle.
I also love Baileys, but Coole Swan has a unique taste.