Distilled Spirits FAQ

Whether you buy distilled spirits for your personal enjoyment or to mix drinks for guests, it’s important to know how to store different types of alcoholic drinks to get your money’s worth! While there are different variations of distilled drinks, there are 6 types of base distilled spirits: brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey. In this guide, we will answer some of your most frequently asked questions about distilled spirits.

Does Putting Hard Liquors in the Freezer Freeze Them?

All distilled spirits contain ethanol and water. The freezing point of ethanol and water is different. In its purest form, ethanol has a freezing point of -114°Celcius or -173.2°Fahrenheit while water has a freezing point of 0°Celcius or 32°Fahrenheit. That means that an average 80-proof (or 40% alcohol by volume) spirit has a freezing point between -30°C to -22°C (or -22°F to -17°F). Since most home freezers can only reach -17° to -20° Celsius, distilled spirits won’t freeze in the freezer.

When it comes to the freezing point of alcohol, the higher the alcohol content, the colder temperature is needed to freeze it. This, of course, works the other way too: the lower the alcohol content, the warmer the temperature required to freeze it.

Image used under Creative Commons from Tim Johnson

How Light affects Alcohol?

Generally, alcoholic drinks are sensitive to light. This is the reason why alcohol is best stored in a liquor cabinet where it’s dark and dry. The effect of light exposure will depend on the type of liquor being exposed to the sun as well as the degree of exposure. Distilled spirits are not as light sensitive as say, wine or beer, but the flavor could be affected by extended light exposure. In short, extended light exposure breaks down organic compounds, which results in evaporation of flavors. To slow that process down, alcohol is sold in glass bottles. The dark glass bottles block some of the UV light (UVB to be exact) but not UVA light. To minimize exposure to UVA, store the bottle in a dark place.

Please note that for distilled spirits, preventing oxidation is much more important than reducing light exposure. Just keep the bottle in a dark place, and it will be fine.

How Does Exposure to Air Affect Alcohol?

Oxidation is a term that often comes up when discussing the storage of distilled spirits. Generally, we want to limit alcohol’s exposure to air, and specifically oxygen. We do that by keeping our bottles sealed tightly when not in use, and pouring the alcohol into a smaller bottle when our bottle is less than half-full.

We do that because oxidation alters the alcohol compounds, which changes its flavor. Oxidation may be a good thing for some alcohols like whiskey. It sometimes improves the taste, at least at first. The first one or two glasses are often harsh and don’t taste that great. But after the first few sips, the flavor becomes smoother as the most volatile molecules leave the bottle. Usually, spirits don’t benefit much from further oxidation, as it makes the taste even smoother and eventually flat.

Oxidation starts working when you first open the bottle. That’s when new air gets in contact with the liquid. Once you seal the bottle, the oxidation still occurs, but the alcohol has only so much air to work with. That’s why we use smaller bottles if the liquid level is low. This ensures that the alcohol has as little air to use as it can.

Each time you open the bottle and pour a glass of alcohol, the air in the bottle is replaced, some of the flavors dissipate with that air forever. And once you seal the bottle again, the liquor has new air to use for the oxidation process. So the number of times you opened the bottle also affects its overall taste. If you’d like to learn more, here’s an interesting discussion on the topic.

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What Evaporates Faster: Alcohol or Water?

The ethanol in distilled spirits evaporates much more quickly than water. This is the reason why poorly sealed bottles of distilled spirits tend to have a weaker, more watery flavor than newly opened or well-sealed ones. Ethanol has a weaker polar bond compared to water, which means alcohol is more volatile. On the other hand, water evaporates slower than alcohol because of its strong bonds.

How to Store Distilled Spirits?

You should store distilled spirits in sealed glass containers at room temperature or slightly lower. Keep them in a dark place, like a liquor cabinet. If, for some reason, you are using a bar cart to store alcohol, keep the cart in a cool, dark, and dry place.

While room temperature is perfectly fine for storing distilled spirits, storing distilled spirits in the fridge is fine too. If you need to chill a bottle before serving, pop it into the freezer for an hour or so. As mentioned in this guide, it won’t freeze.

Always keep the bottle closed when not in use. If the container is less than half-full, pour the alcohol into a smaller bottle to slow down oxidation. This helps retain the quality of the alcohol for longer.

When it comes to decanters, they look great but don’t provide as good of a seal as a bottle with a cap does. Because of that, it only makes sense to leave the alcohol in a decanter if you plan on consuming it within a few weeks. In a short period of time, the flavor of the high-proof alcohol won’t change that much. For extended periods, storing the liquor in a bottle is much better for retaining quality for longer.

If the bottle comes with a cork, do not stack it on its side like wine bottles. You should store this bottle upright so the liquid won’t seep into the cork. High proof alcohol might cause the seal to break, and you definitely don’t want that.