Bartender pouring a cream cocktail.

Explaining the Difference Between Bourbon Cream and Irish Cream

Have you ever had a Mudslide cocktail? If you have, you may have noticed a very creamy, almost milk-like note within each sip. Cream liqueur, a combination of dairy cream and a spirit like whiskey, is responsible for that flavor.

The most popular variety is Irish cream, widely recognized through the brand Baileys (in fact, Baileys is almost synonymous with Irish cream these days). Aside from giving your cocktail some lovely richness from its cream content and the floral and fruity flavors of Irish whiskey, Baileys also contains notes of cocoa and vanilla, too. With such a combination of flavors, it’s not at all surprising that a bottle of Irish cream has become a familiar sight in most bars.

There’s also another type of cream liqueur on the market, this one has an American spin — bourbon cream. In terms of composition, it doesn’t differ much from Irish cream — part cream, part whiskey. It’s just bourbon instead of Irish whiskey. If you’re eyeing either liqueurs to add to your cocktail-making shelves, here’s what you should know about them and how they taste.

What is Irish cream?

Pouring Irish cream into coffee

Thanks to Baileys, Irish cream has become one of the top-selling liqueurs in the world. Although it only came to market in the 1970s, the recipe for the liqueur has been around for much longer. In 14th-century Ireland, monks would mix Irish whiskey with dairy cream to create a “healing” tonic that can treat dementia and skin irritation, among other things. That’s the “traditional” Irish cream — just a mixture of dairy and whiskey.

Modern-day Irish cream is a different story. While it still contains cream and Irish whiskey, its popularity can be credited to a few extra additions: Chocolate and vanilla flavorings. The resulting blend is both sweet-smelling and tasting, making it enjoyable to sip on its own, use as a creamer in coffee, or mix into cocktails.

Though Baileys is the best-known brand of Irish cream, it’s definitely not the only one. Other brands like Saint Brendan, Kerrygold, and Coole Swan ranked alongside Baileys as good sippers, too!

What is bourbon cream?

Coffee with cream liqueur topping

Bourbon cream is similar to Irish cream, with the base spirit swapped for bourbon instead of Irish whiskey. This type of cream liqueur doesn’t have a representing brand. Besides small distilleries, major brands like Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam offer their spin on bourbon cream. For the bourbon connoisseurs among us, take your pick depending on whose bourbon you vibe with better — these distilleries obviously use their own whiskey as the base spirit for their bourbon cream.

Flavorings are almost certainly involved in the production of bourbon cream despite none of the manufacturers mentioning it outright. Just like with Irish cream, you’ll taste a bouquet of different spices, chocolate, and vanilla alongside the familiar burn of bourbon and the richness of dairy cream.

With a bottle of bourbon cream, you can use it in much the same manner as Irish cream. However, for your first taste of the creamy variant of the quintessential American liquor, you should pair it with something similarly American to get the best-tasting experience, like a bourbon cream root beer float! Outside of that, though, it’ll also be a pretty amazing coffee creamer or cocktail mixing ingredient.

Flavor differences

Person making Irish coffee

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Think of Irish cream as a standalone product: It’s bought and enjoyed for the flavor of all its component ingredients together. Most people buy a bottle of Baileys to mix with cocktails or add some kick to their morning coffee. The inclusion of Irish whiskey is regarded as nothing more than a basic ingredient to give the liqueur its burn. That’s why Irish cream makers don’t have a lot of qualms about adding extra flavorings like cocoa powder or vanilla extract to add more tasting notes to the liqueur.

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On the other hand, bourbon cream is treated more as an extension of its key ingredient: Bourbon. This means it’ll often taste sharper and more alcoholic than the Irish counterpart because makers are naturally more reserved about adding too many extra spices and flavorings that could mute the bourbon, which is the star of the show.

As a result, bourbon cream will typically have far more subtle cocoa or vanilla notes compared to Irish cream. This is important to keep in mind when using bourbon cream to mix drinks. A recipe that relies on cocoa or vanilla flavors of Irish cream will taste very differently if you substitute Irish for bourbon cream, like a creamy espresso martini.

Production and availability

Bottles of Baileys on shelves.

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Since bourbon cream isn’t as popular as Irish cream, most bourbon creams today have a limited supply. Black Button bourbon cream, for instance, is handcrafted in small batches. The same holds for larger brands like Jim Beam, which has stated that its Bourbon Cream Liqueur is only available for a limited time. If you find a bourbon cream you enjoy, be prepared to have some trouble sourcing more in the future.

Irish cream, led by Baileys, has mastered the art of mass production due to the massive demand for the liqueur. No matter where you are in the U.S., you won’t have much trouble finding a bottle of Baileys. Depending on where you purchase it, a bottle of Baileys will most likely be cheaper than a bespoke bottle of bourbon cream, too!

Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t high-quality Irish creams that get the same bespoke treatment. Coole Swan is a prime example. It costs quite a bit more than Baileys, but the exceptional pour makes it worth the investment.

Origin of the cream

Heads of dairy cows on a farm

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Bourbon cream, being produced stateside, uses cream that’s sourced in the U.S. For Black Button, the company stated that the cream that’s used to produce its cream liqueur is from “local New York farms.” If the idea of supporting local businesses is important to you, then bourbon cream’s the way to go.

Irish creams use dairy cream that’s taken from, you guessed it, Irish farms. Baileys said that it purchases 200 million liters of milk every year from small, family-owned farms in Ireland to churn into cream for its liqueurs. Ireland has quite a tradition for dairy farming and has been doing it for thousands of years, so it’s no surprise that their dairy is very well-regarded for its quality, part of which you can enjoy in a pour of Irish cream.

Does that mean Irish cream is, on some level, better than bourbon cream? Of course not! Remember, the cream is only a part of the equation in a bottle of cream liqueur. There’s also the whiskey, spices, and flavorings, too. It’s better if you try both and let yourself be the judge of which one suits your taste better.

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