Restaurants and bars are seeing a surge in sales of cream liqueurs, both as components in cocktails and as after-dinner drinks.
“Beyond the fact that we are in the cold months and customers crave cream liqueurs in their coffee or on the rocks, we are seeing an increasing trend in cream liqueurs because of the new wave of vintage cream-based cocktails made new again,” says Lauren Parton, bartender at Vol. 39 in Chicago’s The Kimpton Gray Hotel. “Pink squirrels, grasshoppers and mudslides are creeping their way back into the mainstream. These cocktails are fun, delicious and easy [for bartenders] to add their own small spin.”
The selection of cream liqueurs, which for many years revolved around two big brands—an Irish cream liqueur and a creamy rum-based spirit—now includes a new crop of products from craft distillers. These artisanal cream liqueurs come in an expanded flavor palate, including variations infused with maple, butter pecan and Indian spices.
Here’s how three operators are menuing these spirits in inventive cocktails and on drinks lists.
Cocktails with an Indian accent
At Vol. 39, Parton is mixing up drinks with an Indian-spiced cream liqueur made in nearby Wisconsin. The product is a blend of almond, pistachio, cardamom, rose, saffron and dairy cream. The flavors really pop when the liqueur is mixed with other spirits, Parton says. “I started using it to replace cream in a few classic cocktails to test how it works with various ingredients,” she says. “The gin fizz and mudslide were favorites.” Parton’s Masala Mudslide combines the cream liqueur with aged rum, coffee liqueur and garam masala spices, while the Turmeric Dram (pictured) uses turmeric-mustard syrup, black pepper and orange bitters to enhance the liqueur. She has also experimented with it in tea cocktails.
Moving beyond moonshine
A distillery in Tennessee known for its moonshine recently released two “Appalachian sippin’ creams” in butter pecan and dark chocolate coffee flavors. The cream liqueurs are currently served primarily in local restaurants but are distributed in 21 states. At Sunspot in Knoxville, Tenn., both flavors are available as an option for a build-your-own hot coffee drink garnished with whipped cream. A chilled cocktail called the C and C—a mix of chocolate whiskey, coffee liqueur and Irish cream liqueur—is also menued with either of the sippin’ creams.
Going vegan and seasonal
After several years of declines, the leading cream liqueur brand was projected to post positive growth in 2016, according to Impact Databank. The spirits report attributes the turnaround to two recent line extensions—a vegan, dairy-free version of its Irish cream liqueur made with almond milk and vanilla, and a limited-time pumpkin spice variation. The latter, made with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla, found its way into a fall cocktail at Novo Restaurant Lounge in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The Pumpkin Spice Float combined the seasonal cream liqueur with Canadian whisky and vanilla puree, topped off with root beer.