YOU may have been enjoying a Bailey’s or two over the festive period but did you know that it was “invented” in Harlow.
Here is an article published in The Irish Times in 2017 in how it all came about.
By David Gluckman
“My dinner-party party piece for many years was to say, “Well, actually, I invented Baileys. You know, Baileys Irish Cream. I did that back in 1973.”
If one of the unfortunate listening group is a woman – and this is based on actual past experience – she is likely to respond something like this: “Oh-my-God. Baileys. My mother absolutely adores it. Did you hear that, Jocasta? This man invented Baileys. It’s unreal. I don’t believe it. He must be terribly rich. Baileys Cream. Wow!”
And it’s not as if these rather posh people really adore Baileys. Or even hold it in the same esteem as, say, an obscure Islay single malt or a fine white burgundy from Meursault. Not a bit of it. They might have respected it years ago but most people of legal drinking age regard Baileys as a bit naff. To my mind, they’d be very wrong.
Can we take anything from my Kerrygold butter experience? Is there something in Ireland’s reputation for dairy produce that we can apply to an alcoholic drink?
On December 3rd, 2007, Diageo announced the sale of the billionth bottle of Baileys since it was first introduced in 1973. That’s a thousand million bottles. And they will have sold at least a further 250 million bottles in the decade since then bringing the total up to something in the area of 1,250,000,000. If we assume that every bottle of Baileys delivered eight generous servings that suggests that over 12 billion glasses of Baileys have been poured since it all began.
The initial thought behind Baileys Irish Cream took about 30 seconds. In another 45 minutes the idea was formed. Baileys was like that for me. A decade of experience kicked in and delivered a great idea. It wasn’t as instant as it seemed. This is the story of its creation.
‘’What are we going to do about this bloody Irish brief?” I asked, testily, challenging my business partner Hugh to feel some pressure. I was annoyed by his ability to take things a great deal more calmly than I ever did. We’d only been in business together for a month and that alone, I thought, warranted a greater sense of urgency. We had families to support.
“What Irish brief?” he replied. We’d discussed it on Friday last, but Hugh was very good at switching off for the weekend. “IDV,” I reminded him, “International Distillers & Vintners. Its Irish company wants us to create a new drinks brand for export.” They hadn’t said what kind of drink, just that it should be alcoholic.
The technical people at IDV’s research and development department in Harlow had concocted some “heather and honey” traditional-style liqueurs as a starter but no one was much inspired by them. As usual in those days, there was no written instruction and we described the sparse expression of the company’s objectives as the “Wexford Whisper”, so vague was the outline of what they wanted. The only proviso was that we should limit the amount of Irish whiskey we used because IDV didn’t have any strong relationships with Irish distilleries and wouldn’t be able to control supply of the stuff.
Hugh stared at the ceiling. His morning coffee hadn’t kicked in yet and he was a self-confessed slow starter. I was still seething from his languid entrance to the office 90 minutes after mine.
We were, I suppose, unlikely business partners. Hugh Reade Seymour-Davies was a toff. He was a “gentleman copywriter”, educated at Eton and Oxford, and an unapologetic classicist. He could quote all the Latin and Greek greats with real facility and would “get some Latin in” to documents or labels when I felt we needed to impress some of our more intellectual clients. He was steeped in Shakespeare, admired Beethoven and Mozart certainly, but anything written, composed or painted after about 1830 fell into the category of mid-19th century arrivistes.
I, on the other hand, was most definitely an arriviste, having fled South Africa in 1961 aboard the Cape Town Castle to occupy a mattress on a floor in a shared room in Earl’s Court. Leaving behind me a possessive Jewish family, I’d escaped to London to make my way in advertising. Just before I left South Africa, where I’d been involved with ads for medicines to cure piles and devising promotions for patent fingernail clippers.
We chatted aimlessly for a few minutes about the Irish brief and then I raised the issue of my previous Irish involvement. “Can we take anything from my Kerrygold butter experience?” I said. (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. Where Hugh was more likely to intellectualise and think through the appalling consequences of dropping cream into Ireland’s beloved whiskey, I was all for doing it there and then. I jumped up, almost grabbed him by the lapels and marched him out into the street and into what was then International Stores at the southern end of Berwick Street market in the middle of Soho. It was the nearest supermarket to our office.
We bought a small bottle of Jamesons Irish Whiskey and a tub of single cream and hurried back. It was a lovely May morning. 1973. Underdogs Sunderland had just won the FA Cup. We 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 went back to the store, searching the shelves for something else, found our salvation in Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate and added it 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, from the moment Hugh looked at me to the moment we poured our mixture into a cleaned-out screw-top Schweppes’ tonic bottle and I called Tom Jago, our client at IDV. I suggested that we meet immediately. I went on my own. Either Hugh had had second thoughts and decided that the gentry at IDV would cast out our muddy concoction with suitable disdain – or he didn’t have an available suit hanging up in the office. I suspect it was the latter. Ten minutes later I was in a cab heading for 1 York Gate, an elegant Georgian house in the outer circle of London’s beautiful Regent’s Park.
In the cab I tried to bring some logic to this wacky idea. 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.
Gilbeys had reached an agreement with the Irish finance minister that export earnings on the new brand would be tax exempt for a period of 10 years
We had just started out as an independent business a few weeks earlier and I don’t think we took in that this was an imperative brief that had to be solved in a hurry. It was just something that cropped up in a casual conversation with Tom. We saw nothing in writing. I was to discover some time later, a lot later, that Gilbeys of Ireland management had reached an agreement with the Irish finance minister that export earnings on the new brand would be tax exempt for a period of 10 years. I seem to recall that at the time of the Baileys’ 10th anniversary party – and it was some party – the company had sold about 4 million cases the previous year. Who needed a written brief?
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
When I got to York Gate I went in to see Tom to present our mucky brown liquid in its recycled bottle with huge enthusiasm. He liked it immediately. 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 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 about our Heath Robinson product.
Given the totally revolutionary nature of the product, and the fact that nothing like it had ever been made before, we decided that we would develop it completely before we showed it to the Irish. This was odd coming from both Tom Jago and me, as we were both terribly impatient. (His attention span was not of heroic proportions and I once considered petitioning for the word “jago” to become adopted as a unit of measurement for attention deficit syndrome). But in this instance we had to take our time about it: there were too many imponderables about our creation. It could turn out to be a very tough sell. Or no sell at all.
We took it to the technical group in the Gilbeys building that housed their factory offices, distillery, research laboratories and warehouse in Harlow, Essex, about 40 miles north of London, a few days later to present it to Alan Simpson, who ran the division, and his second-in-command, Mac Macpherson. They were boffins or techies and knew about the science of drink production. Mac was in a white coat while Alan looked like the proprietor of a fine wine emporium. “Good suit,” I thought. I stood in Alan’s office with our precious bottle burning a hole in my raincoat pocket. I was eager for him to taste it there and then. He wasn’t quite so keen and when I read his lips the words “later perhaps” seemed to form.
“After lunch” he said and steered us towards a burgundy tasting. Oh dear. He was a wine man at heart. It didn’t help that I managed to get quite a bit of wine over my tie and the style of my spitting left much to be desired. They finally tasted our concoction after lunch – after a bottle of decent red – and there was no doubt, by the expression on their faces, that they thought it was quite disgusting. It wasn’t a fine wine after all. It didn’t look like wine. It didn’t look like any known liqueur and it didn’t even taste like whiskey. What was it? We’d gambled on the fact that they might like the taste, but it was evident that they did not. Perhaps it had aged in the five days since we made it.
Yet strangely Mac looked up to us from his awful beige-streaked glass and nodded almost imperceptibly. Whatever we were doing, no matter what he thought of the taste, he knew what we were aiming for. Just a nod, that’s all he gave us. Not a yes but better than a no. Mac would be the man who would have to run with this. And he did.
Although IDV didn’t have the technology to mix alcohol and cream together, Tom insisted that the team apply resources to studying it. The technical challenge was under way and
I remembered once, during the Kerrygold days, being told by a well-known Irishman that so many Irish names sound quaint when applied to brands. His name was Tony O’Reilly and
O’Reilly’s Irish Cream might indeed have sounded a bit whimsical. I could see what he meant and it had stuck in my mind. We needed what they called an “Anglo-Irish” name. We were sure that a family name might be better than a “thing” or a place name. That was the popular convention of the business in those days. After all, many drinks were named after the people who made them.
As the office that Hugh and I shared in Dean Street was only temporary accommodation, we were planning a move within Soho. Hugh insisted that we had an office close to a game butcher’s – in this case Parrish & Fenn. He liked his new season grouse. We visited some premises in nearby Greek Street, alongside a pub called The Pillars of Hercules and above a restaurant of no fixed ethnicity that was called Baileys Bistro.
The rest of there article can be found at The Irish Times
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