About a year ago I was asked to be part of a small group giving feedback on a top secret new product from drinks company Diageo. It turns out that product was a new chocolate version of Baileys, and it’s fair to say that I left thinking the drink we tried a year ago wasn’t quite ready for market.
Fast forward to July this year and we received an invitation to a mysterious event in East London, organised by the famous Bompass & Parr. The event was to promote the new drink, now ready for sale and known as Baileys Chocolat Luxe.
If you’ve ever been to a Bompass and Parr event, you’ll know they’re usually something a bit special. Last year they flooded the roof of Selfridges and turned it into a luminous green boating lake. They’ve created Willy Wonka style chocolate waterfalls and numerous jelly-based architectural creations. For the Baileys event, they took over Dennis Severs House, an almost perfect recreation of an 18th Century house in Folgate Street.
The house is wonderful and the atmosphere was perfect, but the event itself was a little lacklustre. Guests moved from room to room, learning a little about the product and the challenges of making it. At the end of the tour, we sat down and enjoyed a small afternoon tea with cakes by Lily Vanilli as we sampled the drink itself.
But we didn’t actually learn a lot at the event. While the drink is made with real chocolate, it is – as you might expect – cheap, bulk Belgian chocolate made from West African beans. The fact that it was talked about as though it was the best chocolate money could buy was more than a little frustrating. Lily’s cakes were great, and it was nice to see both Lily, and Sam Bompass & Harry Parr themselves doing the talks, but there wasn’t a lot of substance behind the theatre.
For me, that sums up the drink quite nicely. It comes in a fancy bottle, with a rather old fashioned name, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a slightly chocolatey tasting Baileys, and we’ve seen that before. In fact, Thorntons created their own chocolate liqueur two years ago. In branding terms, Thorntons may not be in the same league is Baileys, but their liqueur isn’t bad.
It’s rather annoying then that the press release for the Baileys drink starts with the lines “the world first innovation in chocolate from Baileys that sees real Belgian chocolate fused with alcohol for the first time”.
Ignoring the fact that the horribly outdated words “Belgian chocolate” are being used to signify a quality product, that little quote brings me to another issue I have with Baileys Chocolat Luxe. They haven’t really “fused” the chocolate at all, and the moment you add ice to the drink, it starts to separate. This is something we noticed in development a year ago, and although it’s not quite as bad in the final version, it seems Diageo have decided to try and make a “feature” of it…
“As the ice chills the drink a hypnotic pattern emerges on its surface, swirling and marbling the rich chocolate liqueur into a lighter ornate Rococo design.”
And this is what it actually looks like:
To me, that looks more like a curdled mess than an ornate Rococo design.
With all that said, I don’t actually dislike Baileys Chocolat Luxe. It’s actually a very pleasant, chocolatey version of Baileys, and I’d quite happily drink it occasionally. But some of the language, imagery and theatre being used to describe it are a little over the top for what it is. It’s not a unique innovation. It’s not a masterpiece of theatrical artistry. It’s just Baileys with chocolate in it. Innit.
Baileys Chocolat Luxe will be available soon at Harvey Nichols before going on general sale in October.