In the 1960s, David Dand, a career liquor man from Ireland, decided to create a new product to expand business. He wanted it to be uniquely Irish, something to reflect the good things in Ireland, which he felt were being overshadowed by The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Tariffs made importing ingredients expensive so Dand and his team looked locally to see what could be used and saw a lot of dairy farms and whiskey. The first Baileys was made by mixing cream and whiskey in a blender in Dand’s office and it was delicious. But the mixology presented problems, the cream and whiskey would separate and cream goes bad quickly. They hired teams of food scientists and worked for four years to make the product what it is today. It’s a closely guarded trade secret, but somehow they’ve made cream and whiskey last for two years at room temperature. A 1995 article from the Irish Times explained it this way: “To keep the product fresh, each cream molecule is coated with whiskey during the blending process when the grain spirit and chocolate and vanilla flavours are added.”
But that wasn’t the last hurdle. After years of research and a large upfront investment, the response to their first tasting night wasn’t a success, Dand was known to say that many left the launch party to go get “a real drink.” Despite a disappointing launch, Dand had cases of Baileys shipped throughout Ireland a few days later, and that first year about 8000 cases were sold.
But the response overseas, the real market Dand was after, was poor to say the least. On one trip to America, a distributor told Dand “this shit will never sell.” But Dand persevered and by 1978 he finally started to see some results. The company exported 600,000 cases that year and sales began to snowball. In Australia, signs in liquor shop windows read things like: Baileys Arriving Tomorrow, Auction At 3 O’Clock.
Finally, in the early eighties, Dand convinced an American importer to try Baileys. The importer wanted twenty-five thousand cases, but, being the businessman that he was, Dand refused. He wanted Baileys to be sold nationally and convinced the importer to take seventy-five thousand cases. It was a huge success, Americans drank 125,000 cases that year and today we account for 30% of Baileys sales.
The product is genius, most ingredients come from within a few hours drive of the Dublin plant where Baileys is made and it’s ready to ship within thirty-six hours after the arrival of cream at the plant. By contrast, whiskey distillers often hold onto their liquor for a decade before it’s ready to sell. It’s inspired ice cream flavors, candies, and a host of other liquors mixed with cream. An empire started in a blender.