Think of cream liqueurs as the comfort food equivalent of the spirits world: cozy, slightly indulgent and a treat to enjoy when you need a little lift—as we all do these days.
“I like to think of cream liqueurs as a reward,” says Brian Facquet, founder/distiller of upstate New York’s Prohibition Distillery, which makes the Beaverkill Bourbon Cream. “The world still likes simple and sweet, the fattiness and richness of the cream, and a little bit of buzz.”
“The low-alcohol nature of most cream liqueurs makes them more approachable for consumers leery of super-strong spirits. Some bottles reviewed ranged from 12.5% abv, on par with many wine styles, to a ceiling of 19%, still less than half the alcohol level of a typical straight spirits pour.”
Meanwhile, styles have expanded far beyond Bailey’s-style Irish creams made with Irish whiskey. Notably, Bourbon-based cream liqueurs are picking up speed.
“It’s an untapped market,” Facquet says. “The beautiful thing about Bourbon is it has natural cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, all these notes from the corn and the barrel,” which meld harmoniously with cream. The Bourbon cream boom may also be an extension of consumer interest in products made with local ingredients.
Whatever the base spirit, the most enticing cream liqueurs emphasize both flavor and texture. Beyond a whiskey base, samples reviewed include a rum and orujo, a grape spirit from Spain similar to Italy’s grappa. From a frothy lemon curd-flavored liqueur like the RumChata Limón to a silky, delicately-spiced sipper inspired by South India’s coffee culture (Sōmrus Coffee Cream Liqueur), a good cream liqueur feels like a luxe blanket tucked around the shoulders, simultaneously warming and decadent. It’s a treat we all deserve.
10 cream liqueurs to look for
Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur; $32, 96 points. A milky appearance and bold white chocolate aroma mark this luxe sipper. The light, frothy palate layers vanilla buttercream, cocoa butter and white chocolate, exiting with a pleasing minty exhale and a warming alcohol kick. Made with Belgian white chocolate and single malt Irish whiskey.
Hard Truth Toasted Coconut Rum Cream; $30, 95 points. Lingering softly on the palate like cream of coconut, this milky-hued liqueur opens with vanilla and toasted coconut tones. There is a surprising saltiness on the finish that suggests Maldon salt flakes on top of a vanilla wafer, unusual in a cream liqueur, it begs for a second sip. Mix into tropical cocktails.
Abadía da Cova Galician Cream Liqueur; $44, 94 points. An easy-drinking crowd-pleaser, this liqueur has a milky coffee appearance. It’s smooth and not too heavy, with a subtle, refreshing minty note on nose and palate. The base spirit is orujo, distilled from the skins and other solids left over from wine production, macerated with milk.
RumChata Limón; $22, 94 points. Cooling and refreshing, this liqueur has a pale, buttery yellow tinge and pleasing aroma of lemon cream pie. The light, almost frothy palate suggests lemon curd and vanilla wafer, finishing with bright lemon peel and a fresh herb exhale. It’s a Caribbean rum base. Sip or mix into citrusy cocktails.
Sōmrus Coffee Cream Liqueur; $25, 93 points. This addictive sipper is a blend of coffee and chicory with a base of Caribbean rum. A gentle coffee aroma leads the nose, while the light, silky palate shows plenty of vanilla and cocoa powder, exiting with a mild coffee exhale. Sip alongside or in place of dessert.
Mr Stacks Toasted Coconut Cream Liqueur; $10, 92 points. Expect a creamy hue and pleasing coconut meat aroma. Concentrated coconut flavor carries through on each sip, ending lightly on nutmeg and cinnamon. Overall, a dessert-worthy pour.
Amarula Vanilla Spice Cream Liqueur; $24, 91 points. Pours out with a light, latte-like hue and nutty, faintly spiced aroma. The light, smooth palate opens with a burst of cardamom underpinned by a mild fruitiness that resembles dried dates. The long finish is tinged with vanilla, caramel and sweet spices.
Last Shot Chocolate Crème Brulee Liqueur; $30, 91 points. Distiller and owner Chris Uyehara is a former pastry chef and chocolatier; his 35-year career inspired this lip-smacking liqueur. Made with a Bourbon base, the delectable aroma is pure caramel, while the smooth palate is more nuanced, leading with vanilla and cocoa and exiting with a distinct almond paste note.
Metcalfe’s Vermont Maple Cream Liqueur; $28, 91 points. This plush, buttery liqueur has a coffee-with-cream appearance and mild maple aroma. The palate echoes that maple flavor more emphatically, finishing with mild nuttiness. Sip or mix.
Beaverkill Bourbon Cream; $25, 90 points. Made with Bourbon laced with New York State maple syrup, this is a particularly thick, viscous cream liqueur. Especially when chilled, it’s reminiscent of sipping on a vanilla milkshake, albeit one that finishes with a boozy, mentholated zing.
The Whistler Blenders Select Irish Cream Liqueur; $30, 90 points. Made using single-pot still Irish whiskey, this plush liqueur offers rich custard and chocolate flavors. It finishes with just enough alcohol to cut through the creamy richness. It’s decadent and worth a second pour.