Does Liquor Go Bad?

Does liquor go bad? It’s difficult to answer this question because there are few kinds of liquor. Basically every liquor can go bad, but for many of them it’s very unlikely. On the other hand, some liquors are fine only for a year or two after being bottled and then, in many cases, they go bad. As you can see, it all depends. If you’d like to know how to store liquor, what’s the shelf life of different kinds of liquor and which ones go bad pretty quickly, this article will give you the information you need.

Before going to the heart of this article, let’s clarify what liquor is. Liquor, according to Wikipedia, is an alcoholic beverage produced by distilling ethanol. There are at least three kinds of liquor: base spirits (e.g. rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey), liqueurs (e.g. Kahlua) and fortified wines (like vermouths). Important thing you should know – liquors don’t age once they are bottled. After opening a bottle of liquor for the first time, it tastes pretty much the same as in the moment the liquid was poured into the bottle and it was sealed. Please note that regular wine isn’t a liquor.

How to store liquor

There are a few thing to remember when storing liquor. The first thing is that it’s the best to keep it in a pretty cool area (e.g. the pantry), but it isn’t completely necessary. What’s more important is that the temperature in that area shouldn’t fluctuate too much. In particular, avoid extremely warm or cold places. Another good thing is to avoid direct light. Last but not least, always keep the liquor in a tightly sealed bottle if not in use at the moment. If you’ll follow the mentioned directions, your liquor should be fine for as long as it possibly can.

Many bottles of liquor
Image used under Creative Commons from brendan-c

What is the shelf life of liquor?

This is the tricky part because shelf life of a certain liquor depends on its kind. Base spirits (also known as base liquors) can be stored for a very long time. Their shelf life is basically indefinite. If the seal of a bottle of liquor is weak, it might allow some air to sip into the bottle, which will cause oxidation and evaporation. Both cause the quality of the liquid to drop. That’s why if you have a bottle of cheap liquor, storing it for a very long time doesn’t really make sense.

Once the bottle is opened for the first time, you can still store it for a long time (counted in years), but the evaporation and oxidation processes accelerate, so drinking base spirits within several months after opening is a good idea. Also, the less liquid in the bottle, the faster the deterioration process progresses. So, if you plan to store a small amount of liquor for a month or two, pour it into a smaller bottle to slow down the deterioration process a little.

When it comes to fortified wines, the story is a little different. As long as the bottle is unopened, you can store it for at least a year, but in most cases it won’t be “bad” or anything after two or three years as well. Here’s where the “Best by” date comes handy – depending on the kind of fortified wine, some manufacturers may suggest to use their product within a year, others within several years and that’s the best you can get. It won’t go bad after that time if stored properly, but its quality in many cases won’t be the best. So, it makes sense to drink fortified wines before the “Use by” date to get the most out of them.

Once the bottle is opened, the fortified wine will remain at its best for a couple of months (even 5 or 6), provided you keep it in the fridge. After that the wine will be fine, but its quality might be significantly lower than expected.

When it comes to liqueurs, that’s a different story. Liqueurs have a shelf life and some of them really go bad after some time. That’s because they contain ingredients (e.g. eggs, diary) that go bad after certain amount of time (that depends on the preservatives used). The shelf life varies between liqueurs. Some of them can be stored for years (although their shelf life won’t be indefinite), and others (especially cream liqueurs) have a shelf life of 2 years or even less. The best thing you can do is to check the product’s shelf life and do some research about this certain liquor. This way you’ll get to know everything specific to the alcoholic beverage you have.

How to tell if liquor is bad

Telling if liquor is off isn’t that difficult. You just need to take a look at it, search for any discolorations and other visual changes and, if it’s a liqueur, look for crystallizing sugar or any curdling at the bottom. If everything seems fine, smell it. If it has developed any kind of “strange”, “off” or “funny” odor, discard the liquor. If everything is fine, taste it. If it’s bad, you’ll notice it right away.

As you can see, liquors can go bad, but some of them have an extremely long (indefinite) shelf life, while others can go bad after only two years. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning, it all depends on the kind of liquor itself. What’s pretty much common between different types of liquors is how to store them.