alcohol drinks

How Long Does Alcohol Last? Can It Go Bad?

How long does Alcohol/Liquor last? If you do not open the bottle of liquor, the shelf life should be indefinite. Opened liquor can last a year or two before it is not safe to drink. It will lose that defining color and flavor. The thing is, it does not become toxic or anything like that.

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If you have a bottle that has been around for a long time, check it, and use basic observation to know if you can drink it or not. However, there is no baseline for all liquor types. The best way to know how to handle each one will be to know what they are like and how long you can keep them before they are no longer safe to drink. Rule of thumb: If you can keep the bottle unopened, the liquor should be good for years. Not just that, you need to make sure that even when it is unopened, you store it in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight. If you open it and there is too much air in the bottle, you can pour the remaining alcohol into a smaller bottle to prevent oxidation and evaporation. That aside, let’s talk about why liquor does go bad?

Does Liquor Go Bad?

Usually, three factors play into this. They all make liquor lose the quality that makes it good. The factors are:
  • Temperature
  • Exposure to air
  • Temperature.
When liquor is left out in the daylight (the sun, basically), it will change color over time. This happens because the sun’s rays have a UV light, which reacts with the organic molecules that give liquor its distinctive color, taste, and aroma.
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Color changes usually indicate that the flavor has changed too. Temperature degrades a molecule in liquor called ‘Terpene,’ which changes the flavor. Air exposure leads to oxidation, which affects flavor directly. If you can store the liquor in moderate temperatures away from direct light, it should retain the quality indefinitely. When the liquor is about 30-40%, it is not conducive for bacteria to grow. That is why it has such a long shelf life when it is still unopened. When you open it, though, the air will get inside. Because the air contains so many things, bacteria will get in, and that is why most hard liquors will generally spoil in one to two years. You should know, though, that when we say alcohol has gone bad, we do not mean something as drastic as mold, coagulation, or toxicity. Alcohol doesn’t go bad so much as it loses quality and becomes not worth drinking. The flavor and aroma disappear and become something you may have never tasted before in your life. But you know what, if you are in the middle of an apocalyptic landscape with monsters that want to eat you and you find an improperly stored bottle that has “gone bad,” then go ahead and drink it. You don’t even need to be in the middle of a Mad Max-esque scenario to drink liquor that has “gone bad.”
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Adhere to the proper storage methods, and everything should work out just fine.

Does Alcohol Have an Expiry Date?

Base liquors (whiskey, rum, brandy, tequila, vodka, or gin) have an almost infinite shelf life when they are unopened. The reason is that they do not have a lot of sugar, and when left unopened, they do not oxidize easily. The high alcohol content (usually above 80 proof or 40%) makes them an inhospitable environment for bacteria to make a home. After you open the bottle, you can check the expiry date and make sure that you finish it before then, to be safe. Organize a happy hour drinking session and get your friends together for a great time. Pro Tip: The less liquor there is in a bottle, the more likely it is to spoil. This is because a lot of the bottle is air, which means oxygen, which means oxidation and…you get the idea. Oxidation is bad for your drinks because it will degrade. Let’s talk about each type briefly.  

1. Liqueurs and cordials

Eventually, they will go bad. How long you get to keep a liqueur will depend on particular characteristics. Dairy-based liqueurs like Kahlua or Irish Cream will last 12-18 months and usually have a date on the label. You should drink them in less than a year.
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Liqueurs and cordials expire. Sugar-based liqueurs last a year or several years before they go bad. They curdle or discolor, or the sugar crystallizes. High proof liqueurs like triple sec will last for years easily. Long story short, this type definitely expires. If there are no physical signs, take a sip and see what happens.

2. Beer

There are three beer types, meaning we have three answers for you.
  • Vintage beers can be stored for a long time. They have a higher alcohol content and can be stored for years in cool, dry locations.
  • Unpasteurized beers are made in microbrews meaning that they can spoil. Look at the bottles and make sure they look and smell good before drinking.
  • Bottled or canned beer (let’s call it mainstream beer) should be fine to drink for a long time when kept in an airtight can or bottle and pasteurized.
Store beer in a dark and cold location like a fridge or cellar. In warm temperatures, it will undergo the Skunking Effect. What is skunking? Oh, alright, we’ll tell you. The decomposition of ingredients can change the taste or odor of a beer. That’s what skunking is.

3. Vodka

Vodka doesn’t really go bad. Unopened, you are looking at decades. It does not expire because it is a simple and stable spirit. If you leave it lying around for forty to fifty years (haha! Why would you do that, though?)
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Anyway, where were we? After half a century, the vodka will have lost enough flavor and alcohol content to be considered expired. But it could take 100 years. No, that is not a joke. Opened, we’re talking around 10 to 20 years. Not that much change because, why are you keeping a bottle of vodka around for ten years?

4. Whiskey

Unopened, it lasts indefinitely. It can expire, though. All you need to do is open the bottle. 1-2 years is the max you can have it opened if it is half full. If it is less than half full or a quarter full, then maybe six months. Remember the whole oxygenation thing?

5. Bourbon

Same as whiskey.

6. Rum

Decades upon decades, unopened. Drink within six months after opening. It goes bad rapidly after you open it.

7. Tequila

Decades upon decades, unopened. Drink within a year after opening.

8. Brandy

Keep away from heat and light. Do not open, and it will be there for, yes, you guessed it, decades upon decades. If pened, you can enjoy it in a year or two.

9. Gin

Decades upon decades in dark places with moderate temperatures. Because of its high flavor content, gin degradation will make your gin, not gin. It won’t be good. Drink within a year after you open it.
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10. Wine

Decades upon deca…wait a minute! Wine can go bad. But several factors play into this. Learn more about wine storage practices for the different types to know how to store yours. Like the people that drink it, wine is complicated. If you drink wine that has gone bad, it won’t make you sick. However, you are probably not going to be happy. But you know what, getting rained on can make you unhappy too. No, there is no point we are trying to make here.

Is light bad for liquor?

Yes. Specifically, sunlight. It breaks down the organic compounds, affecting taste and color. It becomes dull.

What happens when alcohol “expires?”

It loses color and taste, making it duller. Heat, air, and light change it.

Can old alcohol make you sick?

Nuh! That means ‘no,’ if you don’t speak young. You will not be impressed by old alcohol. That’s all; you will be fine.]]>

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