Irish cream, eat your heart out

Baileys Irish Cream may be the most famous, but it is by no means the only cream liqueur out there. Since Baileys was introduced in 1974, dozens of other companies have made their marks on the spirits world by creating new versions of cream liqueurs, including many Irish distillers and the Belgian Godiva chocolate company, whose line of cream liqueurs set a new standard in dessert cocktails because, well, who doesn’t love chocolate?

While all cream liqueurs combine cream and a flavorful spirit of some sort, several capture the imagination and explore new taste realms. Amarula Cream, made in South Africa from the fruit of the Marula tree, which grows only in sub-Saharan Africa, leads this pack. The tart fruit, which has to be harvested before elephants eat it off the trees, is fermented and aged in oak casks before being blended with cream.

Amarula draws on the classic combo of fruit and cream, and its nice balance of those elements makes it rich and pleasing from pour to palate. It has a highly citrus nose for a fruit cream liqueur: Chocolate and orange arise first, quickly followed by sweet, mocha notes. The taste of Amarula is delightful, with its tart citrus flavor nicely rounded out by sweet, full cream.

Any list of standout cream liqueurs must now include Voyant Chai Cream, a relative newcomer that’s already setting its category on fire – appropriately, its packaging is a sleek but dynamic bottle coated in orange flames. Voyant is made using aged rum and fresh cream from Holland; it is then blended with various chai spices including cinnamon, black tea leaves and vanilla. The spices combine to produce a creamy mocha flavor, which the liqueur’s dark brown color only enhances, since it resembles homemade chocolate milk. The chai element is strong, too, instantly recognizable in the liqueur’s aroma.

Voyant has a defined taste, so it may not be for everyone. The chai and cream are well-balanced, so it starts smooth, with an initial taste of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla followed by a creamy tea-leaf flavor. An alcohol content of 12.5 percent (25 proof) leaves a lasting impression on the finish.

Though its name might make it sound a bit ho-hum, don’t overlook Vanille Royale, a graceful French liqueur that gives a nod to its heritage by using Cognac as a base. From its simple white bottle to its creamy hue to its quiet taste and smell, everything about Vanille Royale is elegant.

Though it’s 17 percent alcohol (34 proof), Vanille Royale might be best described as soft: Madagascar vanilla beans add to a sweet, buttery scent with hints of coconut and white chocolate; the same elements complement each other on the palate for a smooth – and very approachable – taste. There is only a faint hint of the Cognac, which fades into vanilla on the finish.

As with any cream liqueur, these decadent standouts make for a nice after-dinner sipper, particularly over ice. They’ll star well in cocktails, too, provided you keep a few rules in mind: Never mix a cream liqueur with a citrus base as it will cause the cream to curdle, be sure to shake the cream liqueur before blending it with other spirits, and be sure to use a recipe that complements everything in the liqueur. Something as simple as hot chocolate pairs beautifully with a cream liqueur, so don’t feel you have to overcomplicate the cocktail with many ingredients.