Sunday, January 27, 2008
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.