Does Whiskey Go Bad?
My wife and I were clearing out our pantry this weekend when I found a half-empty Jack Daniels bottle that had not been touched in over one year.
I am thrifty and didn’t want a good bottle to go bad. So I did some research and found out that whiskey can go bad.
Unopened whiskey can last up to 100 years if stored correctly. Whiskey will last for approximately 1-3 years if it is half-full. You should finish whiskey within the next 3 to 6 months if there is less than a quarter left in the bottle.
How long will an unopened bottle of whiskey last?
Whiskey can be stored properly and will last indefinitely. If you have an unopened container in your pantry that has been forgotten for a while, it is likely still safe to consume.
Whiskey is aged in wood casks and stopped when it is bottled.
A small amount of Scotch whisky aged 100+ years was found in Antarctica in 2010. Ernest Shackleton, an explorer, left the bottles at MacKinlay distillery.
Scientists discovered that whisky was perfectly preserved after careful extraction.
According to connoisseurs and collectors, the key to keeping a good whiskey is proper storage
How long will an opened bottle of whiskey last?
It is important to remember that whiskey will not ‘go bad’ or become unsafe to drink. Due to changes in alcohol and tannin levels, the flavor profile of whiskey will change over time.
The following guidelines are somewhat subjective. To be honest, the more ‘whiskey snobbery you are, then the more sensitive your taste buds will be to changes in flavor over time.
Generally, open bottles will still taste great after the following periods.
Whiskey Storage Guidelines
You should give it a try if your bottle is not up to the standards. Old whiskey is safe to drink, but you should only keep it around for as long as it passes your taste tests.
What makes Whiskey go bad?
There are several reasons whiskey can ‘go bad’ or change over time.
- Air Exposure (Oxidation).
- Sunlight Exposure
- Temperature Fluctuations
- Uncontrolled Humidity
Although it’s a common sin, whiskey preservation is not possible in the best places.
It will likely experience constant temperature and light changes, as well as vibrations from your fridge.
The greatest factor in whiskey spoilage is exposure to the air.
This is the only reason whiskey keeps longer in an open or partially opened bottle. Whiskey lasts longer in an unopened or partially filled bottle.
Over time, whiskey’s taste will change due to oxidation.
Another important component to preserving whiskey is avoiding direct sunlight. The Scotch Whisky Association states that only direct sunlight can cause Scotch whisky deterioration.
Two-fold sunlight has a positive effect on whiskey
- Ultraviolet Rays react with the tannins of your whiskey
- Temperature fluctuations will be caused by direct sunlight
Your whiskey will start changing if it is exposed to direct sunlight every day. Your favorite Bourbon will begin to develop a taste similar to paint thinner or rubber balloons within 12-24 months.
Keep your whiskey in cool, dry areas with low-temperature fluctuations. A cellar environment would be ideal but it is not always possible or necessary.
You can store your favorite whiskey at home in a cabinet that is kept at room temperature (60-75degF, 15-24degC).
I have also tried whiskey stored in a refrigerator for at least 1-2 years without any adverse effects.
To preserve your Scotch, so long as it’s kept in an air-conditioned area, I would be less concerned about temperature control and more concerned about the air and sunlight exposure.
You’ll need to control the humidity in your whiskey storage area for two reasons.
- High humidity can lead to mold in wood corks over time. This could cause evaporation or oxidation of whiskey.
- Collectors should be aware that high humidity can cause deterioration of your whiskey label and could affect its resale or collection dollar value.
Maintaining humidity levels between 50-70% in space is ideal. Basements can be used as long as moisture control is maintained.
How to Properly Keep Whiskey
Storing unopened bottles
Now that you have a better understanding of whiskey spoilage, it is time to find the right place to store your liquor.
Properly store whiskey bottles in a pantry, basement, or liquor cabinet. Cool, dark, and dry are the best conditions for whiskey storage.
The ideal temperature ranges from 60 to 75 degrees F (15-24degC), and you should avoid direct sunlight.
Because of their high alcohol content (40%+), whisky bottles should be stored upright. The alcohol could eat away at the natural cork, causing bottle leakage, flavor taint, and other issues.
This is not the case with wine, which has a lower alcohol percentage (around 12% ABV).
It’s also important to keep the bottle dry if it is stored in the basement or attic. You can either use dehumidifiers or wrap the whiskey with plastic bags.
Storing Opened bottles
Storing an open bottle is nearly the same as storing an unopened one.
It is important to keep it upright in a cool, dark place with controlled humidity. As mentioned earlier, the volume of the air inside the bottle will play a role here.
Two things are worth paying attention to…
- The remaining whiskey in the bottle
- When there is less than half of the whiskey left, the number of times you open and shut the bottle
These have significant effects on whiskey’s oxidation process. The more air in a bottle, the greater the chance that the flavor profile will change.
Fresh air is brought in to accelerate the oxidation process every time the bottle is opened.
You will need to keep the cork if you want to preserve whiskey quality for a long time.
You can do this by turning the whiskey bottle upside-down for a few seconds each 3-4 weeks. This will help to moisten the cork and prevent it from drying out.
Wine bottles should be stored horizontally because they will lose more alcohol over time.
However, whiskey made with natural corks should be kept horizontally as the high alcohol content will slowly destroy the cork.
Alternative Bottle Sealing
Inert gas –Oxygen can be removed from the equation to remove oxidation!
To replace the air in a bottle with an inert gas such as nitrogen, you could use Public Preserve.
The heavier Nitrogen is than Oxygen so even if you have some air in your bottle after using Private Preserve the inert gas will sink to the top of the whiskey. This is often called a “nitrogen blanket”.
The remaining air between the Nitrogen & the cork will then be absorbed. However, this will solve your oxidation problem. You will still need to re-spray the bottle with the gas each time you pour it.
Plastic Wrap – If you are concerned about alcohol evaporation due to the porous nature of corks then Parafilm or another plastic food wrap may be a good option.
Wrap the Parafilm around the top of the bottle. This will seal the alcohol from escaping over time.
Use smaller bottles This is a less complicated way to preserve your whiskey. Simply throw out the original bottle and transfer any liquor to the best whiskey decanter and glass set.
A smaller bottle will reduce the oxygen head, which in turn will drastically reduce the oxidation effects while being stored.