TRIED & TESTED : CREME DE LA CREME

After-dinner liqueurs for the sweet-toothed Christmas guest are offered for approval to our panel
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The Independent Culture
HIGH-MINDED boozers would not regard cream liqueurs as "serious" drinks, but they make serious money for the people who sell them. Since the 1975 launch of Bailey's, the first brand, the market has grown to annual sales of around 3.1 million litres. And people who love the drinks - of whom there are many - enjoy a luxurious sensation of cream which coats the tongue and will, with repeated applications, induce the requisite warm glow.

These products are triumphs of marketing. They take a base of cream and flavourings, add alcohol to a strength of between 15 to 24 per cent usually, package them attractively and then sell a bottle for up to pounds 11 - the same price as a bottle of basic blended Scotch. In many products, part of the alcohol comes in the form of pure ethanol, a cheap commodity. But did they all taste the same? Not according to my panel, 11 women attending the monthly meeting of the Friends of Kentish Town School, London, NW5.

THE PANEL

Clare House, full-time mother; Mandy Goldsmith, costume-maker; Carol Marin Pache, teacher; Judi Blackmur, marketing consultant; Di Harewood, artist; Diane Pearson, housewife; Anna Ledgard, arts educationalist/ teacher; Jill Hill, nurse; Sarah Deale, deputy head-teacher; Rosemary Rice, teacher; Kate Frood, head-teacher.

THE TEST

Our panel tasted eight liqueurs, all but two combining alcohol (whiskey or brandy, sometimes with wine or neutral spirits) with cream. They were asked to give their reactions on the usual tasting criteria - looks, aroma, taste and aftertaste.

*DE LA RUE CREAM LIQUEUR

Around pounds 5.99/70cl

uThis one's made by the Channel Island Cream Liqueurs company, and boasts of being made with Jersey cream. The panel were not impressed, particularly when they took a whiff. "Like sour milk," said Di. "Fragrant and floral, but not in a good sense," said Judi. The taste she described as "cheap strawberry candy with chocolate and cream". Most agreed that it tasted better than it smelled, but that was largely because the aroma was so off-putting. Even Kate, who has a prodigious and very forgiving sweet tooth, decided that it was "really horrible".

*BOLS ADVOCAAT

Around pounds 7.99/70cl

uThis is the bright-yellow Dutch liqueur made with egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and brandy. It is so thick it pours with difficulty, and the panel did not appreciate that thickness; most said they might like the drink better if it were mixed with something light and fizzy. Anna described it as "unpleasant" both in texture and taste. Di thought it was "like custard with alcohol in it." Judi said the texture of egg was "powdery", and Rosemary spoke of "a horrible taste of raw egg". Only Mandy dissented, saying that she preferred it to the chocolatey drinks. A few of the panellists had drunk the brand's main competitor, made by Warninks, and all said that Warninks is better. If you like the idea of the drink, that brand may be the one to try.

*MILLWOOD CREAM LIQUEUR

Around pounds 5.89/70cl

uThis is sold at much lower prices than Bailey's even though it too contains Irish whiskey. It aroused strong, instant, and unanimous reactions. Di's "Ugh!" summed them up. Rosemary called it "far too sweet". Mandy said it tasted of "cheap alcohol, very nasty. No-frills cream rather than Eden Vale." Someone else said you might bring it out at a point in the evening when no one would notice what they were drinking. Judi suggested the possibility of cooking with it.

*****SHERIDAN'S CREAM LIQUEUR

Around pounds 9.89/50cl

uThis technological marvel had the teachers gaping in wonderment. Sheridan's is a single package combining two vessels: one with vanilla liqueur, the other with chocolate-coffee liqueur. When you break the seal (which is a tricky process), you discover two pouring spouts, one from each bottle. Tilt the glass, pour, and you get a two-level drink with the vanilla floating on the darker chocolate. It looks a bit like an Irish coffee, and the panel thought that it tasted great. "Like creme caramel", said Anna. "Liquid pudding," thought Di. "Fresh-brewed coffee," according to Judi. There were reservations, however. Kate thought the presentation was "tacky" if impressive. Rosemary thought it would make a good gift for the mother- in-law. And the value for money seemed doubtful. But this is an unusual package containing a tasty drink, they agreed. "Pour it in the kitchen and carry the glasses out on trays," advises Sarah.

*****AMARULA CREAM LIQUEUR

Around pounds 11/70cl

uA newish cream liqueur which hails from South Africa and takes its name (and flavouring) from the fruit of the amarula tree. Despite, or perhaps because of, the origins and the exoticism of the drink, none of my tasters could guess the identity of the flavouring and found it rather similar to Bailey's - which meant that they loved it. "It's not too strong," said Clare, "I could drink a measure of this." Kate said it was "lovely, with a good aftertaste." Anna thought the quality was "much higher than most of the others." Only one person, Carol, thought that it only deserved four stars, rather than five.

***CADBURY'S CREAM LIQUER

Around pounds 10.79/70cl

uThe panel liked the idea of this one, being confirmed fans of Cadbury's chocolate, but most were disappointed with the reality. Clare said it wasn't as creamy as she would like, and both Sarah and Jill thought it should taste more strongly of chocolate. "It tastes more like Bailey's than like chocolate," said Sarah. On the other hand, no one complained about it or reacted with the disgust that some of the other drinks elicited. And Kate, our resident sweet tooth, liked the drink very much. "It's very nice," she said.

****MALIBU

Around pounds 10.99/70cl

uThis is another huge success from the same company that created Bailey's. It's not a creamy drink, so it was an odd drink out here: white rum with coconut. But it too appeals to sweet tooths, and nearly everyone liked it to some extent. Clare said she loves the smell, which "takes me back to the Caribbean". Di could taste the coconut fully, and said she "quite liked it". Nearly everyone could drink a small glass quite happily, apart from Rosemary: "I prefer Glenfiddich after dinner," she told us. Kate, though also a fan, remarked that the drink was really "for good-time girls doing the rounds of the clubs."

*****BAILEY'S ORIGINAL IRISH CREAM

Around pounds 10.99/70cl

uThis is the leader in the field - the original, the standard-setter, and still the most successful cream liqueur. All but one of the panel had drunk it before; most said they liked it, though one warned (from personal experience, she said) against over-indulgence. Impressions in the tasting were almost uniformly positive. "It's the right consistency," said one. Judi described it as "something you almost chew - like a food rather than a drink". The general feeling was that there was more cream than whiskey in the sensory picture, especially, according to Di, in the aftertaste. And while no-one expressed a deep love of the stuff, they could see that it was a high-quality product. "I like it very much," said Clare, "but I wouldn't want to drink a pint of it." Rosemary thought it was "for older people; my mother-in-law would drink it."

STOCKISTS

Bailey's, Amarula, Malibu and Sheridan's are widely available at most supermarkets and off-licences. Bols Advocaat is somewhat less widely available, though its competitor Warninks is sold by Waitrose and other supermarkets. Milkwood is available from Kwik Save, Co-Op, and off-licences. De La Rue is available from Kwik Save, William Morrison, selected Co-Ops and independent merchants. !

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