The Jewish history of Baileys

 

March 24, 2023

There is a long history of Jews working in the alcohol industry, from running the majority of taverns in Poland in the mid-19th century to founding distilleries and wineries that are still in operation today. You may even be familiar with some of these businesses, such Herzog wineries, Seagram or the Carmel Winery. But what you probably don’t know is that Baileys Irish Cream liqueur was invented by a South African Jew. Turns out, Baileys does not have deep roots in Ireland as its label, which depicts the lush green fields of the Irish countryside, and name would lead you to believe. Rather, it was invented by David Gluckman in London in 1973.

Gluckman was born on November 1st, 1938 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, now known as Gqeberha. He spent the first five years of his life in this small city, after which his family moved to Johannesburg to be closer to their extended family. The Gluckmans, David told me when we spoke over Zoom, were not religious, but celebrated the High Holidays and Passover. He recalled that his mother would make bacon and eggs for breakfast for himself and his father after they returned home from their morning swim — always making sure to light a candle so the smell of bacon would be imperceptible to their neighbors.

A chance reading of “Madison Avenue, U.S.A.” by Martin Mayer, a book about the advertising industry, motivated a 19-year-old Gluckman to pursue a career in advertising. After working as an account executive in Johannesburg, he decided to move to London four years later, in 1961 — without a job or a friend in the city. 

A month after arriving, Gluckman was hired at an advertising agency in Knightsbridge, an upscale neighbourhood in Central London. One day, the general manager of the Irish Dairy Board came to the agency seeking help transforming Irish butter from a commodity into a brand. In response, Gluckman’s team created the beloved Kerrygold butter brand. This gave Gluckman the experience of creating a globally successful brand that would set the stage for his future invention.

In 1973, Gluckman set up his own agency along with a colleague. Almost immediately, they received a brief from the International Distillers and Vintners, a beer, wine and spirits distribution company that is now part of a larger multinational alcoholic beverage company, asking them to develop an export beverage made of local ingredients that would be tax-free for 10 years, in line with a new government incentive. Gluckman wondered aloud to his partner whether his experience helping to create Kerrygold butter could prove useful here. In response, Gluckman’s partner half-jokingly suggested that they create a drink that was a mix of Irish cream and Irish whiskey.  

Ireland was, and still is, one of the leading producers of high-quality dairy products, something Gluckman and his partner wanted to leverage. On the other hand, Irish whiskey was in decline at the time, and was only being produced by two distillers, down from 28 distillers in the 1890s. And yet: It was the most logical product to mix with cream to create a new Irish alcoholic beverage. 

Running with this idea, Gluckman convinced his partner to take a trip to the supermarket, then and there, to buy some cream and whiskey. Once back at the office, they mixed the two, but realized it tasted disgusting. As Gluckman laughingly told me, “Whiskey is not a very nice tasting product!” 

Undeterred, they immediately went back to the supermarket where they decided to buy Cadbury powdered drinking chocolate, an iconic British product that’s been in production since 1824. After adding the drinking chocolate along with some sugar to the mix, they found they had created something that tasted good, which they were happy with. The whole process of creating the drink we know as Baileys today took all of 45 minutes!

His partner wasn’t convinced it would sell, but Gluckman decided to pitch the idea to IDV anyway. The rest is history. Not only did he create Baileys, but also established the market for cream liqueurs, many of which are close copies of Baileys, from their taste right down to the design of the bottle. Carolans was one of the first, appearing only four short years after Baileys was launched in 1978. Nowadays, there are countless cream liqueurs on the market, including non-dairy options, that occupy their own section at the liquor store.

Although it wasn’t an overnight success, today there are roughly 82 million — yes, you read that right, bottles of Baileys sold each year worldwide.  

And while there isn’t anything innately Jewish about Baileys except its creator, it has found its way into North American food culture. Beyond being certified kosher, it’s used in a number of modern takes on traditional Jewish dishes, like chocolate hamantaschen with Irish cream filling — a recipe created for those years when Purim coincides with St. Patrick’s day — and Irish cream flavored babka. Plus, it’s a beloved tipple of bubbies round the globe.

So why not say your next l’chaim with a glass of Baileys to celebrate the “Irish” liqueur —with a very Jewish background.

 

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