The man who invented Baileys Irish Cream has told his story about how he and his colleague stumbled upon the formula in just 45 minutes.
It’s an incredible achievement considering that Baileys has since become a major international brand with massive sales all over the world.
Mac Macpherson worked in the Gilbeys research laboratory in Essex in the 1970s. He was given the task of creating a new drink by his employers. He told the story in his own words to the Irish Times.
“‘What are we going to do about this bloody Irish brief?’ They want us to create a new drinks brand for export. They hadn’t said what kind of drink, just that it should be alcoholic.
“We chatted aimlessly for a few minutes and then I raised the issue of my previous Irish involvement. ‘Can we take anything from my Kerrygold butter experience?’ (I was in the team that created the Kerrygold brand in the early 1960s.)
“‘Is there something in Ireland’s reputation for dairy produce that we can apply to an alcoholic drink – all those lush green, rain-sodden pastures and contented cows?’
“Hugh looked at me with an almost earnest stare. ‘What would happen if we mixed Irish whiskey and cream?’ he said. ‘That might be interesting.’ He sat back and waited for a response. ‘Let’s try it,’ I replied.
“We bought a small bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey and a tub of single cream and mixed the two ingredients in our kitchen, tasted the result and it was certainly intriguing, but in reality bloody awful. Undaunted, we threw in some sugar and it got better, but it still missed something.
“We added Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate to our formula. Hugh and I were taken by surprise. It tasted really good. Not only this, but the cream seemed to have the effect of making the drink taste stronger, like full-strength spirit. It was extraordinary.
“The whole process had taken about 45 minutes.
“Apart from the great taste, which triggered the thought that ‘alcoholic drinks don’t have to taste punishing’, I was interested in our serendipitous discovery that the drink tasted stronger than it really was.
“I think our original mix was, very roughly, 25 per cent alcohol by volume. Maybe it could be pitched against stronger liqueurs like Tia Maria, where it would appear to be as strong, but would attract much lower duty. It could therefore be more profitable. I was excited. Very excited. Convinced we’d cracked the Irish brief.
“Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the real heroes of ideas are not the people who have them – they are the people who buy them. Tom (Tom Jago, our client at International Distillers & Vintners) could easily have said, ‘Sorry old chap, but it’s not our sort of thing’ – which it really wasn’t, given the strong focus on wine, sherry, and “serious” spirits like gin, whisky and vodka at IDV. But he was as excited as we were.
“When the night of the focus group came, I looked nervously around the room. This was the male group. Among most groups of drinking men there’s always one who seems to dominate proceedings, ‘I’m a pint drinker,’ he said, ‘And when I’ve had enough beer I move to shorts, like Scotch or vodka. It’s a girl’s drink.’
“The women’s group wasn’t really any more encouraging. One said ‘It looks and tastes like Kaolin & Morphine”, which was a popular medicine for diarrhoea.
“The Allsop Arms in London, which stocked two trial bottles of Baileys, initially without success, until ‘Two policemen came in this afternoon and demolished the whole bottle between them,’ the landlord said.
“We presented the Baileys idea in 1973, it was launched in 1974 but it was another three years before it began to look like a winner. It was almost long enough for people to forget whose idea it was. I remember attending a few consultants’ presentations where the protagonists claimed to have invented Baileys. I managed to keep my cool.
“People nowadays often ask me how much money we get per bottle sold. My answer is that we were paid about £3,000 all-in for the development.”
Since then there have been more than a billion bottles of Baileys Irish Cream sold around the world. It has become as well known, if not more so, than the whiskey brands it was based on. Not bad for 45 minutes work.
Meanwhile, Baileys Irish Cream continues to go from strength to strength and has become a very popular ingredient in luxury dessert recipes.
Written by Andrew Moore
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