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'Baylas', 'Beilis', 'Queillys': In the 1980s the government was urged to tackle cheap Spanish Baileys knock-offs

Locally produced copies of “extremely poor quality” were a persistent issue for importers.

Image: Shutterstock/TY Lim

HOMES ACROSS EUROPE will have consumed Baileys Cream Liqueur aplenty this Christmas.

In 2017 alone, 90 million bottles of the famous drink were sold worldwide. Having recovered from a “lost decade”, sales of Baileys have recovered from the economic downturn, according to recent figures from the Irish cream giant. . 

Among its most successful markets are the United States, the UK and Spain where last year over 3.5 million bottles were sold. 

In the past, though, Spain proved a tricky market to crack, newly released State papers show, as a raft of cheap imitations flooded the marketplace throughout the 1980s. 

At that time, the Department of Foreign Affairs was contacted time and again by Irish business bodies frustrated by Spanish import licensing. 

Baileys was launched in Spain in 1979. The import of the famous liqueur rose from 1,600 cases per year in 1979 to 20,880 by 1983. 

Due to political and personnel changes in 1982, however, Spanish authorities began applying the rules governing the issuing of import licenses much more tightly.

It was predicted that – if the Spanish authorities lifted restrictions – “we could build sales of Baileys to at least 100,000 cases in a five-year period,” an Irish Business Association report from 1983 notes. 

Locally produced copies of “extremely poor quality” did not help matters either.

In the 1980s, imitations like “Baylas”, “Beilis” and “Queillys” were freely sold throughout Spain. 

“We regularly receive letters of complaint from people who have bought one of these brands in the belief that it is our Spanish version of Baileys,” the association said.

“Clearly, these products are bringing the whole cream liqueur category, and thereby Baileys, into disrepute and the knock-on effect occurs, not only in Spain but also in the countries to which those tourists return.”

Imitations, the report notes, cannot be tackled in the Spanish courts and “in a short period of time will destroy the qualitative image of Irish cream.”

One suggestion doing the rounds at this time was to create a separate category for Irish creams similar to the special status enjoyed by Scotch whiskey. 

These days the liqueur is regionally protected – like Champagne, which must be produced using grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. Or Parma ham, made in Italy’s Parma region.

‘Ancient formula’

In the 1980s, market demand far exceeded the present market quota allotments for imports of Baileys, Anglo-Spanish Distribution told the department in 1983. 

By then, Baileys was a brand leader with global market dominance but a shortage of supply in Spain had created “an avalanche of locally produced imitations” of the popular liqueur.

By 1985 and into 1986, the situation hadn’t improved. 

The Spanish government was due to ease restrictions heading into 1986 but bureaucratic issues delayed matter. 

The price of Baileys at the time also meant it could not compete with locally produced imitations. 

One of those imitations – alerted by The Irish Cream Liqueur Producers Association to the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1987 – was Gressy, a cream liqueur manufactured by Diego Zamora and sold as an Irish product. 

“A special selection of cream and whiskey gives Gressy all the taste and magic of the Celtic World,” the “Irish” liqueur’s label read.

“The legend says that this liqueur was born in the fields of Armagh one night when St John, beside a thousand-year-old old oak tree was preparing for a journey to Tír-na-n’Óg, the land of eternal youth.”

“There are those who still say today that around May a new branch of the tree is born each year which is instantly covered with leaves.”

“Gressy preserves, with its ancient formula, all the taste, all the magic of a Celtic World, with its Music, bards and Druids.”

The IBB wasn’t pleased with Gressy and asked the Department to contact Zamora to point out to them that their product’s “Irish” connections were misleading and “perhaps actionable”. 

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