We’ve all got one. That half-empty or unopened bottle of gin, vodka, rum, tequila, or whiskey that’s been kicking around on a shelf for months. Maybe you’re saving it for a special occasion. Maybe you went through a serious Mai Tai phase last summer that ended when you ran out of orgeat. Maybe you just forgot about it, only to be confronted with your impulse purchase after you finally finished that big bag of oatmeal that had been hiding it from view.
“Is this even still good?” you wonder, picking up that forgotten bottle of whiskey and turning it over as you search for an expiration date. Hunt all you like. You won’t find one. That’s because distilled spirits of 40% ABV (alcohol content by volume) don’t actually go bad or expire. A full bottle of unopened whiskey can taste just as good 20 years after it was bottled as the day it was made.
The key word there is “can.” While distilled spirits don’t go bad in the same way that, say, milk does, they are affected by the environmental factors of their storage. If a bottle has been stored in a hot place, in direct sunlight, on its side, or with the contents exposed to oxygen, the condition of the alcohol inside can deteriorate. It won’t make you sick, but it will lose its flavor, aroma, and intensity.
On the flip side, if they’ve been stored well, distilled spirits can last a very, very long time. Antarctic researchers recently discovered bottles of whisky that had been left behind by explorer Ernest Shackleton more than 100 years ago and were frozen into the ice–perhaps the platonic ideal of a cool, dark, undisturbed place. The spirits themselves were in such good condition that the blending team at Scotch whisky brand Whyte & Mackay tasted them and created a new blend to replicate their historic flavor.
The moral of the story is this: Distilled spirits don’t have a shelf life. Unopened, you can keep them almost indefinitely, as long as you store it in a suitable place. Once you open them, you should drink them within about a year if you want to get the maximum pleasure from it. If there’s a really special part-full bottle you’re hoping to keep on hand for longer, try decanting it into a smaller bottle to minimize headspace, and store it in a cool, dark place.
Unlike a bottle of wine, which should be stored on its side to keep the cork from drying out, always store Scotch, whiskey, and other distilled spirits upright. They’re so strong that the alcohol can corrode the cork, causing it to break in the neck of the bottle or impart off-flavors into your drink.
Speaking of wine, storing wine and beer is an entirely different story. Unopened, some fine wines or strong beers can happily age for five or ten years, or even longer. Others, like hoppy beers, lagers, and wines made in a fresh, reductive style and bottled under screw cap, start to deteriorate within a few weeks. Open bottles of beer and wine should be consumed as soon as possible, ideally the same day that they’re opened.
And once you’ve enjoyed them? Consider those empty bottles permission to replenish your supply. Mash & Grape offers a full selection of spirits and wines for your collecting–and imbibing–pleasure. Visit our website to shop online, then order for shipment directly to your door. Cheers!