Does Whiskey Age in the Bottle? | Cask Life AND Shelf Life

Have you ever thought about keeping your whiskey for a couple of years extra to make it age longer? I thought this was a viable plan, but made sure to confirm this first. I did my research and found the answer to the question: “Can whiskey age in the bottle?”. The answer?

No, whiskey does not age in the bottle. A 12 year old whiskey will always remain a 12 year old whiskey, even if you leave it on the shelf for another 10 years. The age of a whiskey is the amount of years it has been in a wooden cask. The flavor of the bottled whiskey can change due to oxidation.

If you like to enjoy whiskey every once in a while it is crucial to understand what aging means exactly. When you have waited to drink a bottle of whiskey, make sure the whiskey did not turn bad. The rest of the page will be filled with all relevant information for you to

Why does whiskey not age in the bottle?

To understand why whiskey does not age anymore once it has entered the bottle, it is important to understand what happens when a whiskey is aged. The next section will explain this more thoroughly, but for now you should know that whiskey gets its flavor and color from the wood of the barrel. As soon as the whiskey has left the barrel and entered the glass bottle, there is nothing to interact with anymore. It is a sterile environment sealed from air and thus also prevented from oxidation.

Chances are that you are familiar with wine, together with the saying “aging like a fine wine”. With wine, it might be beneficial to wait a while before you drink it and leave the bottle properly stored.

The difference is that the wine contains way more tannins. Tannins are chemicals that the wine got from the grapes, which add to the color, texture and dryness of the wine. The large amount of tannins will break down over time, and therefore change the tasting experience of the wine. Another factor is oxidation, which occurs when the wine reacts with the overhead air that is in a bottle.

Whiskey also contains tannins, which it received from the wood of the cask. It has way less tannins compared to wine, to a point where the taste does not noticeably change anymore when bottled (and properly stored). This means that there is no point at keeping your whiskey for years at home before drinking it.

If you’ve already opened the bottle and let more air in it, you are even risking losing the good taste of the whiskey due to oxidation.

What does ageing of a whiskey mean

The aging of a whiskey is a timely process. The whiskey enters the wooden barrels as a transparent and tasteless liquid. After years it comes out as the whiskey we know, but what happens during this time?

Although the whiskey barrels are stored indoors, they are by no means placed in a climate controlled room. Temperature fluctuation during the aging process is preferred as well as necessary. During warmer weather, the whiskey expands and gets pushed in the charred inside of the wooden casks. There, whiskey-to-be has the chance to react with the wood, absorbing the tannins, wood sugars and other things that give whiskey its taste.

During colder periods, the wood contracts and squeezes the whiskey out. Most whiskey ends up back in the cask, but each year about 2% of the liquid disappears (evaporates). This is called the angel’s share. While there definitely is some alcohol in the angel’s share, it is mostly water. The longer a whiskey ages, the higher the alcohol percentage of the cask will become.

The climate and outside temperature are critical for this process. In generally warmer weather, the whiskey does not have to age as long as in colder climates. This is why Scotch whisky is commonly aged for over 10 years, while Bourbon produced in a warmer climate can be aged for less years. Therefore, you can not compare a 10 year old Scotch with a 10 year old Bourbon and assume that the age has had the same effect on the whiskey.

Someone holds a bottle of 16 years aged Lagavulin single malt whisky at the Lagavulin whisky distillery with old oak cask on the background.

Does whiskey go bad over time

If you have found an old bottle of whiskey that you supposed got better over time, you might wonder if it can go bad over time. In short, the whiskey will always always remain safe to drink as long as there is no mold. If the bottle is unopened it will most likely still taste the same as when you first bought or got it. This is because there is little air in the bottle and the seals is still good.

If you have been enjoying your whiskey in the past, there is more overhead air in the bottle. The more you drink, the more your whiskey is exposed to air. This causes the whiskey to oxidize, changing the flavor of the whiskey. If you left just a couple of ounces in a bottle it can be that the whiskey tastes nothing like what it used to. Other people have described it as “just a shadow of its former glory”.

How long it takes before a whiskey goes bad all depends on the way you store it. The whiskey should never be exposed to (direct) sunlight and should be stored in the dark. This can be a cabinet of in the cardboard box it came in. Next, it should be stored somewhere where the temperature is stable. Temperature fluctuations destroy the whiskey’s taste.

The bottle should be stored upright. Whenever the bottle is more than 50% empty and you do not plan on drinking it anytime soon, think about pouring the remaining liquor in a smaller container to reduce the overhead air to which the whiskey is exposed.

For more details on whether whiskey goes bad and how to properly prevent this, read my article and I will explain everything you need to know.

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