After having bought my first single malt after a distillery tour in Scotland, I wondered how long it would take before whiskey goes bad. After asking the right people and jumping online, this is what I found.
Can whiskey go bad over time? Whiskey does not spoil, but exposure to air, light or temperature fluctuations will change to flavor over time. It is best to drink whiskey within a year after opening. The more air in an opened bottle, the faster the flavor changes.
To enjoy your whiskey as long as possible it is important for you to know how long you can keep your whiskey and how to properly store it. It is all about the taste and you do not want it to change or fade.
How long does whiskey last?
First things first, you need to know how long you can keep drinking your whiskey. If stored properly, here are the numbers:
|Unopened whiskey bottle||More than 10 years|
|Opened whiskey bottle||Drink within 1 year|
An unopened bottle can last for ages. Some people say it could last forever, while others do put a duration on it. In general, unopened bottles can last way longer than 10 years and will still taste the same as when the bottle was bottled.
Unlike a fine wine, whiskey does not change in flavor anymore when bottled. It only develops its taste in the casks exposed to the wood.
When the bottle is opened, it is recommended to drink your whiskey within a year. After this, your whiskey will likely start to taste a little different compared to when you first opened it. The liquor is still perfectly safe to drink, but the taste will be different. While the taste could improve, often the alteration is for the worse.
The more you drink from the bottle, the quicker the taste will change. This is because you let in more air in the bottle when you store it. The more air there is in the bottle the quicker your whiskey’s taste will change.
How to store whiskey to make it last
While whiskey will not turn into vinegar like beer, or should be drunk within a couple of days after opening like wine, the taste can change after opening. The taste of the whiskey will change when exposed to light, air or temperature fluctuation. Therefore it is important to store the whiskey properly.
Store your whiskey in a dark place
Make sure you store the whiskey in the dark and not in (direct) sunlight. When exposed to light, the whiskey will heat up and cool down over and over again, taking up more oxygen.
Certain particles in the whiskey will also be affected by the sunlight, making the whiskey change color over time. A lighter color than normal could indicate an overexposure to sunlight. It will taste the flavor, but remains perfectly safe to drink.
Make sure the bottle remains properly sealed
Exposure to air alters the taste of the whiskey the most. An opened bottle has some oxygen in it, but the seal does a great job at closing the it. The more you drink from the bottle, the more oxygen will be in the bottle influencing your whiskey.
A common advice is if you are not planning to drink your whiskey anytime soon and the bottle is less than half full, pour the remaining liquor in a smaller bottle. This will reduce the air pocket in the bottle and slowing the changing process.
Please do not use a decanter for this as the seal of decanters usually is not airtight enough. Instead, use another smaller (properly rinsed) whiskey bottle. If you do not have something like this, it is best to either drink your whiskey or keep it in the original bottle.
Keep your whiskey in a stable temperature
Another thing that greatly influences the change of the whiskey’s taste is exposing the bottle to temperature fluctuations.
It is important to store the bottle somewhere where the temperature does not change often. This can be due to sunlight or lack of climate control in a room of your house.
Store the whiskey upright
It is crucial to store your whiskey bottles upright to make sure the cork is not constantly in contact with the whiskey. Due to the higher alcohol percentage the whiskey cork will be affected by the liquid and be compromised. This is not the case for for example wine corks.
The cork needs to remain wet for the seal to properly work, so it is recommended to briefly turn the whiskey bottle upside down once a month for bottles that you have not touched in a while. This will make the cork wet and keep the seal functioning.
Can old whiskey make you sick?
Whenever you found a whiskey that has been in the a cabinet for absolutely ages you may wonder if the old whiskey can make you sick. The answer is no, as long as there is nothing weird going on like mold etc. Due to the high alcohol content the whiskey deals with the bacteria easily.
What does happen is that the whiskey might taste nothing like you remembered. This is because of the changed taste. If the taste is still up to your liking, go ahead and pour yourself a glass.
A whiskey bottle that is almost empty changes the quickest, and therefore it is likely that the leftover whiskey you found will taste nothing like what it used to.
Does whiskey go bad in the freezer?
A popular question that gets asked often is whether whiskey goes bad in the freezer. While we already established that whiskey does not spoil, there is a reason why we do not store it in the freezer.
Whenever whiskey is stored in the freezer you can not immediately drink it as the whiskey often tastes best at room temperature. The cold temperature dampens and muffles the taste of the whiskey. While there are a lot of people who add ice to their whiskey, straight from the freezer often is not the way to go.
Exceptions to this rule are some newer whiskeys like the Johnie Walker “White Walker” and the Famous Grouse “Snow Grouse” which are recommended to drink at freezer temperature.
Does whiskey have an expiry date
Even if distilleries put an expiry date on whiskey, you do not have to worry about it. The only reason why they would put an expiry date on a bottle of whiskey is to improve the trust in their product. If you have received a bottle of whiskey for your birthday that you do not want, you could re-give it to someone else 6 years later without a problem.
To conclude: whiskey does not go bad like other products. After years and years it is still perfectly safe to drink. What does happen is that the taste changes, but if you find it enjoyable, drink it and enjoy!