A bottle of bourbon isn’t something that we can often finish quickly. It is a great thing to have around the house for when the mood strikes or you have visitors (or a chocolate cake recipe that calls for it), but it is likely that it will be sitting around for a while before it gets finished. But just how quickly do we have to finish that bottle of bourbon?
Does bourbon go bad? Fortunately, bourbon isn’t exactly something that spoils. Like most liquors, it has an incredibly long shelf life, especially when properly stored.
As long as you keep bourbon tightly sealed in a cool, dark place, it will last practically forever, though it will maintain its quality and taste for up to 10 years once open.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the shelf life of bourbon and how to know if it’s time to move onto a new bottle.
Can Bourbon Go Bad?
Because it is liquor, bourbon will never actually “go bad”, if we’re talking in terms of making you sick. Thanks to its high alcohol content and large levels of ethanol, microbes are unable to survive in liquor. Because of this, no bourbon, no matter how old, should actually make you sick.
However, it may lose its quality if it is not stored properly. To maximize the shelf life of bourbon, you will want to make sure that it avoids all contact with light. Therefore, it is best stored in a cabinet or closet when you’re not using it.
Additionally, the temperature at which you store bourbon is very important. More on that later.
So while bourbon won’t ever spoil and an old bottle won’t make you sick, it may taste pretty bad if it is not stored correctly. Take a whiff of your bourbon before tasting it if it has been sitting on your counter for a while. If it smells bad, it will probably taste even worse.
How to Store Bourbon?
Properly storing bourbon is actually quite simple. First off, you’ll want to store it upright in a tightly sealed bottle to ensure that no air gets in.
While wines are stored on their sides, liquors, like bourbon, should be stored upright. If bourbon is stored on its side, you run the risk of the high alcohol content breaking down the bottle’s cork, which will have a negative impact on quality and flavor.
You’ll also need to keep it away from sunlight. For most people, that means keeping it off of your kitchen counter. Ideally you should store bourbon in a closet or cabinet where it won’t have direct contact with light.
Bourbon should be stored out of the light due to the fact that sunlight helps to speed up the evaporation of liquid, impacting the flavor of your bourbon. Additionally, sunlight increases the oxidation process, which also has a negative effect on flavor.
You’ll also need to store your bourbon away from any heat sources, meaning that it should not be kept next to the oven or any other appliances that might heat it up. If your kitchen or pantry tends to get warm, store it in another cooler room, as the temperature should not only be cool but also stable.
Storing it at room temperature should be alright if you live in a relatively temperate place. A pantry or closet will do just fine. You may need to transfer your bourbon to the fridge in the summer if you live in a very hot place without air conditioning.
Make sure that your bourbon is stored in a glass bottle. It’s even better if the bottle is dark, which helps to keep light out.
Finally, it is best to store bourbon with as little air as possible in the bottle. You want the bottle to have as much bourbon as possible, as less liquid means more oxygen, which speeds up the oxidation process. If you only have a little bit of bourbon left in a large bottle, transfer it to a smaller bottle that doesn’t have so much empty space.
Can You Refrigerate or Freeze Vanilla Bourbon?
While bourbon should always be kept cool, it is not necessary to store it in the refrigerator or the freezer.
In fact, very few liquors, with the exception of cream liqueurs like Bailey’s Irish Cream or fortified wines like vermouth, actually need to be stored in the fridge.
However, if you know that you like drinking your bourbon cold, feel free to store it in the fridge. Alternatively, consider purchasing some whiskey stones, which will chill your beverage without diluting it like ice cubes will.
And while storing bourbon in the freezer won’t have any negative lasting effects on its quality, drinking it that cold will dull its flavor, so it really is not necessary to freeze it.
How Long Does Bourbon Last?
Like other hard liquors, the shelf life of bourbon is quite long when properly stored. In fact, bourbon has one of the longest shelf lives thanks to its incredibly high alcohol content. However, there is an important difference between opened and unopened bourbon.
An unopened bottle of bourbon will last decades without losing its quality if it is stored in a cool, dark place. As no air has come in contact with the bourbon, it will not suffer the negative effects that oxygen has on alcohol.
However, an opened bottle of bourbon can begin to lose quality after a couple of years, all depending on how it has been stored. If there is less liquid in the bottle, there is a higher chance that it has suffered from some oxidation, lowering its quality.
An open bottle of bourbon is best enjoyed within 1-2 years of opening, and while it is still safe to drink after this time, its flavor may be impacted. Depending on the quality of the bourbon and how well it was stored, it can retain its quality for up to 10 years after opening.
How Can You Tell If Bourbon Has Gone Bad?
If bourbon is properly stored, it probably won’t go bad. However, if you find a bottle that has been in your liquor cabinet for years, you should probably take a look and see if it is good to drink before pouring yourself a glass.
While bourbon won’t actually spoil, its flavor can be significantly diminished if it comes in contact with too much light or heat, or if it has been stored with too little liquid in the bottle.
To check if your bourbon has gone bad, you should give it a smell before tasting. If it doesn’t have the smooth bourbon smell but rather a sharp, unpleasant aroma, it probably isn’t in ideal condition to drink.
Also pay attention to the appearance of the bourbon. If it seems discolored, it has also likely experienced a decrease in quality and undesired change in flavor.
Is It OK to Drink Old Bourbon?
As we have mentioned, drinking old bourbon won’t make you sick. However, it will likely be very unpleasant, especially if it has undergone lots of oxidation.
In fact, if you try to drink old bourbon, you may not even be able to stomach it. There are few things that are more undesirable than drinking old liquor that hasn’t been stored properly.
Also keep in mind that 2 year old bourbon is not the same as 20 year old bourbon. While you may be able to drink old bourbon that has only undergone a little bit of oxidation, bourbon that is decades old will likely have a much less desirable taste.
How Long Does Whiskey Last?
As bourbon has a higher alcohol content than regular whiskey, it naturally has a longer shelf life. However, regular whisky also lasts quite a long time.
Like an unopened bottle of bourbon, a sealed bottle of whisky will last decades. However, once that bottle has been opened, you have about 5 years to enjoy it if it is more than half-full. This drops to 1-2 years if less than half of the contents are left in the bottle.
The same timeline also applies to scotch whiskey. Just always remember to store any liquor, opened or unopened, in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and heat sources.
Doesn’t Bourbon Get Better With Age?
While bourbon is in fact an aged beverage, it does not get better with age when stored in a glass bottle.
When it comes to bourbon, the aging process occurs in new, charred oak barrels. However, once it is transferred from the barrel to a glass bottle, the aging process comes to a close.
Therefore, storing your bourbon for years in its glass bottle will not necessarily have a positive impact on flavor, unless you have a unique taste for old (and we’re not talking about aged) bourbon.
This rings even truer when talking about opened bottles of bourbon. An opened bottle of bourbon doesn’t age well, and though it won’t experience any changes in flavor until after a few years, it will just continue to lose quality as more time goes by.