This is All You Should Know about Decanting Your Whiskey


My housemate used to always have a whiskey decanter and it looked amazing. I started to wonder why one would even decant their whiskey and if it was necessary. Chances are you are wondering the same right now. Well, this is what I found.

Should whiskey be decanted? Decanting whiskey for periods longer than two months is not advised. Most decanters do not have an airtight seal, so the whiskey will start to oxidize, affecting its flavor. Never store your whiskey in a lead crystal decanter for safety purposes.

But that does not mean you should not use a decanter! There are many good reasons to use a decanter. Also, you should be cautious when it comes to using crystal decanters. If you want to learn about whiskey be sure to read on!

Why use a decanter for whiskey

While most sites will tell you it is fine to store a whiskey in a decanter indefinitely, it is important you should know that the flavor will change due to oxidation. However, there are some very good reasons to use a decanter.

The first reason is for the looks of a decanter. There are many varieties available, and some of them will definitely let you feel like a man with power that we all saw in the movies. In the past a decanter was the way to get your whiskey out of the cask, but that is not the case anymore nowadays.

The second reason is to serve your whiskey to a group of people. Whether you are throwing a party or hosting an event at your place, it might not be a good idea to put the entire bottle of your finest whiskey on the table. Guests can suddenly become very thirsty and start pouring multiple fingers of your whiskey that can legally drive.

It can be rude to ask your guests to stop drinking, so instead you can serve the whiskey in a decanter. This way you can manage your stock and it is easy for you to point to the empty decanter and apologize. This can be a very good reason for you to decant your whiskey.

Glass of scotch whiskey premium and old decanter on a blur background

Coming to the third reason: you can hide the brand of the whiskey. Using a decanter is for gentlemen, and it can be awkward to keep looking at the whiskey bottles with commercial labels. Instead, try pouring some in a decanter. This allows you to taste the whiskey and enjoy the taste without knowing the monetary value beforehand.

Now you can let friends taste different whiskeys without them knowing the brand beforehand. And… who know, maybe they will pick the cheap blended over a good single malt. It will sure give you something to talk about when you reveal the brands.

How long can whiskey last in a decanter

  • Shorter than in the original bottle. Due to more oxidization it is recommended to drink your decanted whiskey within two months.

Some people think that whiskey has an infinite shelf life. While mostly true for unopened bottles, opened whiskey is definitely affected by the air, light or temperature fluctuation. The whiskey does not spoil (I wrote an entire article on this) but the flavor of the whiskey is going to change due to oxidization. This change in taste takes several months depending on the amount of air its exposed to.

For this reason it is important that your decanter has an airtight seal. For most common decanters this is not the case, basically exposing in to a lot of air. I would recommend drinking your decanted whiskey withing two months. If you plan on taking longer than this it is best to store it in the original bottle instead.

When you decanted your whiskey, make sure you do not expose it to (sun)light. The light will affect the whiskey and change its color and flavor. It is for good reasons that some whiskeys are sold in dark brown or green bottles. Store your decanters somewhere in a cabinet where the temperature is stable and where it is nice and dark.

If you have an airtight decanter it can be the perfect way to extend the life of your whiskey’s taste by pouring the remainder of a bottle in the decanter. Whenever the bottle is almost empty (below 50%) it is exposed to a lot of air that stays in the bottle. It is good to pour the remaining liquor in a smaller container to reduce the amount of leftover air in a bottle.

Is it safe to keep whiskey in a lead crystal decanter

No, it is not safe to store your whiskey in a lead crystal decanter for longer periods of time. This is because the lead from the crystal will slowly dissolve in the whiskey making it toxic to drink.

It can be safe to serve the whiskey in a lead crystal decanter, as will be in it for just a short period of time. The same goes with displaying your whiskey. It is fine if you want to display your whiskey in a decanter and pour it back in the bottle afterwards. Due to the high alcohol content of whiskey there is no problem with pouring it from one container to the other. You should be wary that the decanter is clean and will not soil your whiskey.

To know whether a decanter is leaded, look at the packaging or at the information on the website. It should be listed there. Also watch for more obscure ways of listing it contains lead like this example: (24% PbO).

If the it only says that the decanter is made from crystal glass, there is lead in it. This is because crystal is a variety of glass where lead replaces the calcium content of the glass. Typically, crystal contains between 18% and 40% lead oxide (PbO) by weight.

For drinking glasses this is fine as the whiskey is only in the glass for a short period of time. For storing whiskey it is not recommended as the lead has a long time to enter the whiskey. For serving whiskey a decanter is perfect.

Pouring whiskey from bottle in the glasses on wooden background

Cleaning your whiskey decanter

Cleaning your decanter will be tricky due to the odd shape. The standard brush will not fit. Whenever there is some residue left in the decanter, worry not.

First try warm water and soap to thoroughly rinse the decanter. If that works, great! If not, try the next step.

The next thing is to use a 50/50 solution of white distilled vinegar and water. This is a little more aggressive and might work. If not you should try using baking soda and water.

You can also use a scrubbing agent like rice/salt/crushed ice to act as the brush for you.

Once the residue is gone do not forget to rinse the decanter with bleach and let it sit for 15 minutes to sanitize it. Thoroughly rinse it with water and let it air dry. That’s it! I found this step by step guide on this page.

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