The simple answer to this question is…forever. If you have an unopened bottle of whiskey, it can last forever when stored properly. The shelf life of anything bottled depends on the storage methods one uses. Several external factors impact the way the whiskey will be, over the years.
The lighting, the humidity, the conditions of where it’s been stored, and the air in the bottle have the potential to change the whiskey.
Yes, whiskey can spoil if you do not use the proper methods of care. As a collector, you need to know how long a bottle of whiskey can last. In the following paragraphs, we will go into detail about how you can care for your bottles.
With these methods at hand, you can make your bottles of whiskey last as long as possible.
How to Store Unopened Bottles of Whiskey?
Whiskey is stored upright, unlike wine, which can lie on its side. Also, unlike wine, whiskey in unopened bottles doesn’t change much. It doesn’t become better or worse during the storage period. Whiskey does not mature in the bottle, only in the cask.
Ageing liquor requires that it be in contact with the oak wood that the casks are made of. Unlike wine corks that seal the bottle properly and allow no air inside, most whiskey bottles come with plastic caps.
For that reason, the whiskey must be stored in an upright position. The whiskey corks or caps are designed to be used multiple times, just like any other bottle. You can open and close the bottle as desired.
In storing whiskey, there are some things you must do to make sure that the colour, taste, and scent of the drink stays pure.
How Long Can You Keep Whiskey Once it’s opened?
As we have said, you can theoretically keep the whiskey in its factory conditions forever. But that is only if you follow some storage rules that dictate what you should do for a favourable outcome.
Like whiskey, arrack, or rum, distilled spirits don’t spoil like milk or turn into vinegar like wine or beer.
Once opened, the whiskey is exposed to the air, light, and temperature changes in a room. The exposure starts to change the flavour. At first, a change in flavour might seem like a great thing, and it is.
Sometimes, we open a bottle, taste it, and find that it is not fun to drink. However, if you leave it for a few weeks or even a month, the change in taste and cohesion could produce a more enjoyable experience.
However, there is a sweet spot for how exposure changes the contents of a whiskey bottle.
So, what happens if it stays open for a long time?
Over time, the open whiskey drinks will lose their rich fragrance, oxidise (because of exposure to the air) and even change colour or lose flavour. If you ask connoisseurs, they will tell you that a whiskey bottle can stay opened (when appropriately stored) for a year or two years.
Others say that five years is not unreasonable either. But there are conditions you have to adhere to, for the whiskey to keep for that long.
What Are The Conditions You Have To Follow In Storing Opened Whiskey?
Whiskey comes in beautiful bottles, and some brands are just too good to hide in the cellar or the bottom cabinet.
But here’s the thing, in displaying the opened whiskey bottles, you will be exposing them to not just the envious gaze of your visitors, but the elements as well.
However, if you know what affects the whiskey, you’ll know where to put the bottles so they do not degrade faster than they should.
1. Light Is Not Good For Opened Bottles of Whiskey
Yes, you want to display your bottle of Glenmorangie or Old Forester Rye, among other cool brands. But, if you expose the bottles to too much light, it won’t last as long as it should. Keeping it behind a cabinet is a great idea.
Many of the premium whiskeys come in a dark-ish bottle for this reason. If your whiskey comes in a box or a canister, it would be a great idea to keep it in there if you do not intend to finish the bottle soon, for extra protection.
The UV light in sunlight can cause the organic compounds found in whiskey to catalyse and break down. The aroma and wonderful taste of whiskey is usually a product of these compounds. If they break down, the flavour could be lost or degraded.
2. Keep Your Temperature Steady
Room temperature is the least you can do. If it gets hotter than that, you run the risk of shortening the lifespan of your whiskey. Basements, cellars, and the bottom shelf of your pantry are great places where the temperature does not fluctuate that much.
Of course, your collection deserves better. We are talking about top-shelf drinks here. But, unless you intend to finish it quickly, it’s going to have to go to a place where the temperature does not fluctuate too wildly.
It is painful to even think about sending your precious whiskey to the ‘dungeons,’ but it is necessary if you want to keep it longer.
Lower temperatures are recommended to make sure that whiskey does not evaporate. Evaporation is a problem, especially if the temperatures go up.
3. Control Oxygen
In simpler terms, do not let air get into the bottle easily. Vacuum sealers are a great way to ensure that the bottle stays the same. Bars and restaurants tend to have them. You can check out if they are available in your favourite online stores.
Investing in one of these can prolong the shelf life of your whiskey bottle.
NOTE: Vacuum sealers are only a temporary solution, though. The seal isn’t made to last as long as the whiskey. By the way, some experts believe that decanting the whiskey into a smaller bottle is an elegant way to get your opened bottle of whiskey to keep longer. Others swear by a product called Private Preserve. The product is a sprayable mixture of inert gases that form a blanket on the surface of your whiskey. Neat, right?
4. To Reiterate, Store Your Bottles Upright
Wine can remain in contact with the cork to prevent the contents of the bottle from drying out. Whiskey is a stronger spirit that can eat away at the cork, acquiring new flavours and potentially damaging the seal.
5. Check Your Bottle Caps Regularly
Because the air inside the bottle can expand sometimes, the cap will unscrew itself enough to allow evaporation. They do not exactly unscrew themselves to the point of falling off or anything drastic, but they do get loose a bit.
Tighten them regularly by hand.
How Opened Whiskey Changes Taste
When opened, whiskey will change the taste. It is a different process that takes much longer than drinks like wine. Opened whiskey can stay for as long as two years if stored properly.
So, what happens in the bottle at that time?
First, there’s evaporation, which makes the whiskey taste smoother. The air inside the bottle has active gases that react with the substances that lend whiskey its distinct flavour. It is not easy to predict how the flavour will change. Sometimes, it might taste better, but often, it’s the opposite.
To prevent such changes, the air contact of your whiskey should be reduced. Typically, one should do this by filling the drink into smaller bottles. This reduces the whiskey’s surface area that is in contact with air and slows down or drastically reduces oxidation.
NOTE: Avoid using decanters because not many of them are tight over a long time. It needs to have a plastic seal or ground glass joint. To be safe, do not have too many open bottles of whiskey open. Drink those you open within a few months.
Does Whiskey Age in a Bottle?
Wouldn’t you love to buy a bottle of whiskey and keep it for five or ten years so you can drink a more mature version of it later?
Well, sorry to burst that bubble.
A whiskey aged 12 years in a cask and then poured into a bottle will remain 12 years old, no matter how many years later you open it. The whiskey does not improve or deteriorate (when stored properly.)
How Do You Know That Your Whiskey Has Gone Bad?
There are a few ways to know and some things to look out for. They are usually obvious signs you will not struggle with. They include:
- Colour changes
- Bad taste or smell
- Mould or debris at the bottom of the bottle
If your old whiskey smells terrible or doesn’t look right, dispose of it. If it looks and smells alright, taste a little bit to see if it is okay to drink. If it is milder than normal, it is fine.
However, if it has a metallic or sour taste, discard it.
If you follow these tips, your whiskey should be fine.