Most whiskey collectors have several bottles sitting on the shelf of their bar. Some people leave these bottles sitting for so long that they begin to look more like decorations than drinks.
Whiskey is a hard-hitting distilled liquor created from fermented grain mash. It is made from barley, corn, rye, and wheat. “Whiskey” actually comes from a Gaelic word that translates to “water of life.”
Since whiskey is a relatively strong drink, one would think that it might lose potency after sitting for a while. However, this beverage is actually pretty durable and rarely goes bad.
So how long does whisket actually last? There are several factors to consider, and it’s not as simple of an answer as you might think.
You may find yourself in this scenario one day: you’re browsing through your collection of bottles. You find a dusty bottle of whiskey that looks like it was bought ages ago. It’s likely ten, maybe twenty, plus years old. Should you drink it?
Well, the answer is maybe. The shelf life of whiskey varies depending on if the bottle was ever opened or not. Exposure to light, air, and temperature changes would have changed its flavor if it was opened.
On the other hand, if it was never opened, it’ll last nearly forever. Distilled spirits like whiskeys don’t spoil, and they won’t turn to vinegar, unlike beers and wines. When whiskey goes “bad,” it’s actually still drinkable. Its flavor just changes.
That’s not all, though. The spoiling process of whiskey is quite complex. In fact, many other contributors can impact the shelf life of your whiskey. Learn everything you need to know about how long whiskey lasts below with Saucey.
How long does whiskey last?
One important thing you should know about whiskey is that it doesn’t age once it’s bottled. It only ages when it is in the cask in contact with wood. These casks are made from American white oak or European oak, giving the whiskey its taste while sitting in there for weeks (or years).
This means there’s no reason to try and store it for long periods of time. Trying to age, it won’t improve its flavor or affect its consistency at all. If you buy a bottle of whiskey now and store it properly, it should taste more or less the same in a year. The whiskey’s flavor may be ever-so-slightly different only because even the most tightly sealed bottles will allow some air inside after a while, but that’s it.
Though it is not recommended to try to age your whiskey, some people report positive experiences drinking their whiskey a few days after opening the bottle. When you unscrew your whiskey, it releases some of its volatile compounds, smoothing out the taste.
You may find some whiskey bottles to have an expiration date on them. However, that’s usually just a formality. An unopened whiskey bottle should last past its expiration date if stored correctly. If stored for a long time, the flavor will be affected, but it will not spoil.
Keep in mind, though, that once the amount of air in your bottle hits a certain threshold, the flavor of your whiskey will go past the point of tasting good. Generally, the more alcohol is in the bottle, the slower the taste will change. However, there is essentially no way of finding out when this will happen. Therefore, you should try to enjoy your whiskey as quickly as possible after purchasing it.
How to store unopened whiskey
When storing unopened whiskey, it is important to store it upright. The cork on a whiskey bottle doesn’t close as tightly as a wine bottle. This is because the cork on a whiskey bottle is made to be taken off more than once, while once you pop the cork on a wine bottle, it can never truly go back in.
Also, you want to keep your whiskey bottle out of sunlight. The ultraviolet rays of the sun actually bleach the color pigments of whiskey over time. For the best results, store your whiskey in a bar cabinet or package.
It is also wise to protect your bottle from humidity and place it in a plastic bag. Just make sure the bag doesn’t contain any plasticizers or other chemicals, as it can bleach out the label and affect the bottle’s contents.
Next, keep your whiskey below room temperature. When whiskey is stored, you will see the filling level of your bottle lower over time. The tiny amounts of air that can still get into the bottle cause little bits of the liquid to evaporate through the cork.
If you store your whiskey properly, it can last for over a decade. To see how much liquid evaporates from your bottle, use a marker to note the liquid level when you first store it. An additional cap can also prevent evaporation.
There are also certain caveats with the type of bottle you’re storing. For once, bottles with screw-tops have to be retightened by hand routinely. They will naturally loosen over time.
How whiskey’s taste changes
Opened whiskey can taste different than a brand new bottle. Once you open a bottle, you have about six months to two years before it changes significantly in taste—but again, the change in taste won’t necessarily be bad.
During this time, the alcohol in the bottle evaporates, and the flavor of the whiskey becomes smoother. The air in the bottle also contains active gases that gradually cause reactions in the whiskey’s taste.
You can’t really predict how the taste of your whiskey will change. In some events, people report a positive change and an enhancement of flavor. Most of the time, though, the change is worse, often souring the taste of the whiskey.
At the end of the day, it really is your preference. But If you’re looking to enjoy your whiskey the way the producer designed it to be, aim to drink it as soon as possible.
There’s no damage done from keeping your opened whiskey on the shelf for a week or two. You might be fine even after an entire month. However, you should always keep the bottle capped and, if possible, stored securely in an air-tight space.
If you’ve already opened your bottle, one preventative measure you can take is to pour your whiskey into a smaller bottle with less airflow. Just don’t use a decanter, as they usually allow for too much airflow.
How to tell if your whiskey is bad
Whiskey doesn’t necessarily go bad; its flavor just changes. That doesn’t mean that it’s not consumable. It’s almost like eating meat or vegetables that aren’t fresh. They may still be edible, but they aren’t going to taste like they should. Even if your whiskey is a century old, it is probably still good to drink. You may not enjoy it very much, but you probably won’t get sick.
To tell if your whiskey has oxidized, inspect the bottle. If it is leaky or if the cork is damaged or moldy, the taste of the alcohol has probably changed. If the whiskey develops a strange or sour smell, it has changed.
Because whiskey takes such a long time to change in flavor, you likely won’t see any of these signs. Sometimes, the signs are much more subtle. You may have no choice but to just take a sip and see for yourself/ the flavor has changed.
Does whiskey last forever?
So does whiskey last forever? Kind of. Theoretically, whiskey will never spoil. But in the eyes of a true whiskey connoisseur, whiskey is best served fresh out the bottle. Not months or years after it’s opened.
Few pleasures in life feel as good as a tall glass of whiskey. Paired with a plate of smoked salmon or some oysters, whiskey is a godsend.
This is a drink that has been enjoyed for hundreds of years by dozens of generations. Whether it’s bourbon or Scotch, Japanese or Irish-styled, there is a whiskey for you.
If you’re a casual drinker, there is a good chance that you’ve already tried whiskey and don’t even know it. Ever had some Jack Daniel’s? That’s a type of Tennessee whiskey. What about some Fireball? That’s a notorious cinnamon whiskey.
Though some may consider whiskey a drink for more mature audiences, it is actually more common than you might think, and it doesn’t have to be enjoyed alone. Whiskey makes for a flavorful, robust cocktail.
For the highest quality whiskey in the market, check out Saucey. We are the premier name in alcohol delivery in America. Our service is available in nearly every major city in the country.