Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur

Irish Cream was my gateway liquor, and I drank entirely too much of it as a teen. You’d think that gorging on mudslides in a hotel room at my senior prom after-party and subsequently getting my drunk self dissed by my straight-laced sophomore date (who had braces and was named Spencer) would have put me off the stuff, but no such luck. My love for Baileys was only strengthened a month later by a hot, British bartender who introduced me to the Slippery Nipple at a bar in London (that is, the Baileys and vodka cocktail).

But Baileys fell from grace when, in a lapse of judgement, I decided to go on the Atkins diet while living in Italy. Though that unfortunate event only lasted a few months, I never got back on the Baileys train as I realized that sugary, shelf-stable cream liqueurs probably contained horrible ingredients that I didn’t wish to pour into my body-temple. (I’d moved to Santa Cruz at this point.)

This past December, after ten Baileys-free years, Jay and I found ourselves at a wintertime music camp where a friend offered me a cup of tea. I poked around his kitchenette and, finding no sugar or cream, grabbed the bottle of Baileys and added a tipple to my cup. I realized then that Irish Cream is the most brilliant beverage to bring camping, as you have all your coffee/tea accoutrements (booze, sugar and dairy) in one bottle.

When I returned home, I set to work making my own Irish Cream. Most recipes called for sweetened condensed milk, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, instant coffee, and almond and vanilla extracts. With those sketchy ingredients, I wondered, why not just buy the ready-made stuff?

Inspired by a more natural recipe from Design Sponge, I decided to distil the recipe into its rawest form. I first tried making a version with no sweetened condensed milk at all – just sugar, vanilla bean, cacao nibs, cream and whiskey. Though this mixture tasted good (re: incredible) in a cup of rooibos, its mouthfeel when drunk plain was too fatty, and the flavor wasn’t quite right. Making a lighter version with milk and cream didn’t help; it just made the drink watery (though still good in coffee).

Inspired by a recipe for homemade sweetened condensed milk from Kitchen Stewardship, I next tried cooking the milk down with sugar and vanilla bean until it was reduced by half, then adding heavy cream and infusing the mixture with coffee beans, toasted almonds, cacao nibs, and a pinch of salt. The condensed milk turned out to be essential for not only that characteristically viscous Baileys texture, but it also lent a warm, vaguely caramelized flavor to the drink.

This version tastes a lot like the real deal, with its voluptuous mouthfeel and warm, earthy flavors. It’s fantastic in an array of hot beverages (coffee, black tea, chai, and rooibos), or simply poured over ice for an after-dinner tipple. I can’t wait to bring it camping this summer, and to make it for everyone I know next holiday season.

Frisky for whiskey:

Irish Coffee Ice Cream
Sweet Cherry Manhattans
Sparkling Whiskey Gingerade

Irish Cream Liqueur

Inspired by Design Sponge and Kitchen Stewardship

Serve this dreamy beverage over ice, or stirred into coffee, black tea, rooibos or chai. Or pour it into a tasty shake along with vanilla ice cream, cocoa powder, and a banana. The ratios of sweet to cream to booze may be different from standard Irish Creams, so add it to taste in cocktails. If you don’t wish to condense your own milk, don’t substitute the canned stuff, as your ratios will be off; rather, try this recipe from Design Sponge. This is a boozy beverage, whose flavor comes through when mixed, so feel free to dial down the whiskey if you prefer.

Makes 1 generous quart

1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup sugar (preferably organic cane sugar)
1 plump vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup toasted, sliced almonds
1/4 cup cacao nibs
3 tablespoons coffee beans
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups Irish whiskey (such as Jameson)

Combine the milk, sugar and vanilla bean in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. The more surface area, the faster the milk will reduce, so use a large saucepan or even a soup pot if you like. The heavier the pot, the less likely the milk is to scorch. Bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat, stirring very frequently, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot to prevent the milk from burning. When the milk has reached a simmer, reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has reduced to between 2 1/4 and 2 1/2 cups. You can speed the process up to about half an hour by keeping the heat at medium and stirring constantly, or you can reduce the heat to very low and give it a stir every few minutes, which will make the process take a couple of hours.

When the milk has reduced (pour it into a heatproof measuring pitcher to find out), stir in the cream, almonds, nibs, coffee beans and salt. Continue to heat the mixture until steaming, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat, cover, and steep for 10 minutes.

Strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh seive and let cool slightly for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat (this prevents the whiskey from curdling the mixture when you add it). Optionally whiz the mixture with an immersion blender (this helps prevent the fat from the dairy from clumping up in the fridge). When the mixture has cooled slightly, stir in the whiskey.

This liqueur is not shelf-stable, so pour it into jars or bottles and store in the fridge. It should keep for at least a month. (If I can make it last that long, I’ll update this post with an official shelf life.) Cheers.

28 thoughts on “Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur”

  1. I had a few unfortunate incidents with serious amounts of Bailey's in college and I think a homemade version is certainly in order for me as well! This sounds wonderful!

  2. The self stable-ness of Baileys and other cream liqueurs is definitely creepy. But THIS — totally on board! I love that you went 100% from scratch and made sweetened condensed milk. And Irish cream + rooibos?! I want that.

  3. No wonder this turned out great, you start by almost making dulce de leche (milk jam)! I must try this immediately, like right now. Amazing, love it! There´s no turning back after you pour your first shot of baileys into a coffee…

  4. This recipe sounds beyond amazing–can't wait to try it. I had a recipe way back from a friend in Ireland that used chicory syrup (and finding that over here is nearly impossible, or was in the days before the interwebs). There's only one little thing I'd correct: use better whiskey. Jameson's is for cleaning toilets and paint brushes. Bushmills, Black Bush or Tullamore Dew ALL THE WAY! ;-)

    1. Hahaha! Thanks for the tip! I didn't realize Bushmills was better than Jameson, and I've never heard of the other two brands. Time to expand my whisky knowledge – you've twisted my arm. :) I'm so curious about the chicory syrup! I wonder what it adds – earthy sweetness? Caramel notes? Hmmm…

  5. hmmmmm….when it comes to Irish whiskey, everyone has an opinion on what is the best….I would note that in many of the recipes using condensed milk, people have noted that adding a less premium whiskey is just fine….further, in what might be considered beyond sacrilege, many makers of this recipe who live in Canada use Canadian whiskey..and not even the really good stuff!!! It seems that this is a recipe that is destined to be tinkered with forever and as long as it is all going down just fine, why worry?

  6. Well I was intimidated by reducing the milk but I used medium heat and stirred constantly and it came out perfectly! It is cooling now. And then to add the whiskey. Thank you so much for this recipe!

  7. Most of the "sketchy" ingredients are hardly sketchy. I would be wary of the chocolate syrup, but the rest, if one is willing to purchase quality ingredients, are nothing to be afraid of.

    Some may be substandard in regard to flavor, however, but that's another (and, in my opinion, more important) issue.

    Tangents aside, you have provided a quite solid recipe. I applaud your willingness to experiment with various whiskeys (judging by the comments), but I'd recommend a bit more focus on the almonds. Too many people know only of the cheap, and admittedly bland common almonds. I'd instead recommend Valencia almonds for a treat such as this.
    An alternative would be to purchase a single bitter almond, water it out for several hours (say, 5-7), and add it along with the cheaper ones.

    You may also try other types of alcohol. Brandy provides a rather nice liqueur. A store-bought example, though hard to find in the US (aside of internet stores), is Crema de Alba which is based on the Gran Duque d'Alba brandy, which I consider one of the less creepy liqueurs out there.
    Frankly, I think the company would agree with your criticisms of store bought liqueurs — this one may last for a long time on the shelf, but once the seal is broken it's refrigerator only and a shelf-life of 2 months.
    I imagine that could be achieved with homemade liqueurs by following up with a proper pressure canning.

  8. I too was weirded out at the standard recipes that include chocolate syrup, condensed milk and instant coffee. Thanks for a great from-scratch alternative! I just started some kahlua steeping the other day. Can’t wait to add this to our winter drink options as well.

  9. Finally! I have been waiting forever to find a recipe for Irish cream that’s worthy of putting in my body temple :) I’ll be making this just in time for the holidays. Thanks!

  10. OMG! This is divine! I added a cinnamon stick to the recipe and substituted maple syrup for the sugar. I also brewed the milk with all the dry ingredients to get the most flavour. Turned out delish! Thanks so much :-)

  11. I made this last year and it was a HUGE hit! Thank you so much. I am preparing to make a bigger batch this year. I did have a few lumps of milk that stuck to the bottom of the pan but this year will try stirring more…did I use an immersion blender last year? I don’t recall.

  12. I was very excited about finding this recipe. Most of the others I saw used instant coffee, (why would anyone drink that?) which turned me away straight off. Unfortunately living in Wyoming (yes a few people live here) finding cacao nibs is all but impossible in any local fashion. I was also unable to acquire sliced almonds. (odd that the local grocery was out but it happens) I didn’t have the patients to wait (for online ingredients) so I substituted in a few ingredients, 1/2 cup 60% Ghirardelli chips, 1 tsp almond extract and 3/4 cup strongly brewed coffee. (1.5 cups h2o with 1/4 cup quality grounds) I doubled the recipe because, well, more is better, for scientific reasons of course. I can already tell there is too much chocolate which I think overpowers the other flavors but all in all a raving success as I drink a glass over ice. I realize this is meant to be a close approximation of Baileys but I can’t help but think to the future. In my head I see less chocolate (than mine), perhaps some toasted coconut and even a little cardamom. For info I used Bushmills and the alcohol level and taste is perfect.
    Thank you so much for this recipe, I have to say this is a keeper like many others on this site.

    1. Hi Pete! Thank you so much for trying this recipe and for the great notes! Too much chocolate is rarely a bad thing, amiright? ;) I love the idea of toasted coconut and cardamom in there, too. I bet you could use chopped almonds in place of sliced, and maybe a bit of cocoa powder to taste in place of the chips if you wanted to give that a go. In any case, keep me posted on further iterations, and thank you so much for reading!

  13. Hey there! You have an image on your website I’d love to use. It’s an irish cream glass next some vanilla beans with some string and an unlabeled bottle.

    I was wondering what this would cost to use? It’s purpose would be for a tasting flyer and social media for the event.

    Thanks,
    lydia Melton

  14. I’m thinking of trying this recipe – it sounds divine – but what about using half & half, infusing it with the almands , cacao nibs a coffee bean, and skipping the whole condensed milk part?

    1. Hi Charli, I believe I tried this without condensed milk at first and it just tasted like flavored cream, without the rich mouthfeel and warm, caramelly flavor of real Irish Cream. It would probably still be yummy in coffee, though! Let me know what you end up trying. :)

  15. I can’t wait to try this, I’ll have to sub a corn only whiskey because of my allergy to wheat, any suggestions? And also, when cooling the mixture, before putting the whiskey in, is there a target temp? I sure don’t want to mess it up, and have a curdling disaster. Thanks!

    1. Hi Christine, I’m not an expert on whiskey in this capacity, so your guess is as good as mine! I don’t know the exact temp the milk needs to cool to to prevent curdling, but you should be fine if you follow the instructions. :) LMK how you like it!

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