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Accept no substitute for genuine Irish cream liqueur

The US is the worst offender in passing off as Irish cream liqueur products that have no connection with Ireland or Irish ingredients

Irish cream liqueur is one of our greatest export success stories of the past half century. In 2021, Irish whiskey sales worldwide totalled 14 million nine-litre cases. In the same year, Irish cream liqueur sales reached 9.79 million cases – up from 7.5 million in 2014. That’s some achievement for a category that didn’t even exist 50 years ago.

But that export success could be endangered by a lack of legal protection for Irish cream liqueur products on overseas markets.

“One of the best ways to protect the category is by raising awareness,” says Vincent McGovern, director of spirits with Drinks Ireland, the Ibec trade body representing companies in the alcoholic beverage sector. “There is an astonishing lack of awareness of how big the category is, its importance and its potential future growth. It doesn’t have the profile of Irish whiskey, but it is hugely important, nevertheless. There has been a steady increase in sales over the years with only a small decrease during Covid. By the end of 2022 it could be knocking on the door of 11 million cases.”

Part of protecting the product is to make sure people know what it is, he contends. “It can be a little bit harder to protect it if people don’t know what it is. Everyone knows Baileys. Its name is interchangeable with the Irish cream liqueur category in the same way that Jameson has become synonymous with Irish whiskey in recent years. But Baileys now has 24 variations including apple pie and autumn rain flavours.”


Baileys was the first into the market in the 1970s when it invented the category. That was quickly followed by Carolan’s, which remains the number-two seller. After that you have brands such as Molly’s from Terra and Merry’s from the producer of the same name.

“At the moment there are 95 brands of Irish cream liqueur,” says McGovern. “About 35 of them are owned and marketed by six Irish producers and the rest are manufactured by them for customers in Ireland, the UK, Europe and North America who market them under their brands and labels. All those Irish cream liqueurs are produced in Ireland in compliance with technical file.”

“In terms of market size, the US is the biggest followed by the UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Spain, Italy and the global travel industry. Ireland is number 14. Global travel retail was shut during Covid and is much smaller than it was. When we have a full year of travel again, we will see it back up to pre-Covid levels again.”

However, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it can also be dangerous.

“If you have a successful category, it will be imitated,” McGovern points out. “Irish cream liqueur has a problem that other products with geographic indicator [GI] protection like Scotch whisky, cognac and champagne don’t have. Only Irish cream is registered for GI, but Irish cream liqueur is not.

“In general, the EU gets GIs recognised as part of free trade agreements with other markets. But with the Canadian [Ceta] deal and the Australia-New Zealand deal they are trying to negotiate, only the Irish cream GI will be recognised. That means that a producer in Canada or New Zealand will be able to make a drink with locally produced cream and spirit and call it Irish cream liqueur and get away with it.”

The worst offender of all is the US, he adds. “The US government does not recognise any GIs except under special circumstances. Anyone can put out a product and call it Irish cream liqueur. The US department of agriculture regularly approves products claiming to be Irish cream liqueurs which haven’t been produced in Ireland and don’t contain any Irish ingredients whatsoever.”

Awareness is key, he adds. “We need the Irish authorities to step up and do a bit more to protect the category,” he says.

“We in Drinks Ireland are doing what we can. We are putting final touches to an Irish cream liqueur protection campaign which will be aimed at the business community. We want to raise awareness of Irish cream liqueur, how it is produced, its importance to the Irish economy, and what to look out for in counterfeit products.

“We are now entering the period of the year when 85 to 90 per cent of Irish cream liqueur products are sold. We need people to be aware that the Irish GI is a stamp of quality and people shouldn’t accept anything else when buying an Irish cream liqueur product. The Government could help by putting a full listing of authentic Irish cream liqueurs on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine website. That would be a big help.”