Does Whiskey Go Bad?

So there’s this lone bottle of whiskey sitting in the pantry for as long as you can remember. It was probably bought in the `90s and sits there since. And sooner or later, you start to wonder: does whiskey go bad?

Or maybe you have a half-open bottle left from your birthday party last year, and you’re not sure if it’s still any good. It sits in the cupboard for over half a year already, so you expect that it might not taste good.

And since you’re definitely not a whiskey connoisseur, you’re not quite sure if high-proof liquors go bad or not. You heard they last pretty much forever, but you’d prefer to know for sure before pouring yourself a glass.

Whiskey in glass
(credit:eviloars)

If any of these wonderings and concerns sound familiar, this article is for you. In it, we go through storage, shelf life, and going bad of whiskey. If you think you could use additional info about this liquor, read on.

How To Store Whiskey

Storing whiskey is similar to storing any other base liquor, like vodka or rum. You should keep the bottle in a dark and cool place, away from sunlight and heat source.

While neither of these factors will make the whiskey spoil, they may affect the taste negatively. Thus you should avoid heat and often temperature changes.

When it comes to where exactly should the bottle sit, the pantry or a wine cellar are both perfect choices, but the kitchen works too. A liquor cabinet is another popular option, but make sure you do not keep the bottle on display, where sunlight can reach it.

Johhny Walker Whisky
(credit: Jakub Dziubak)

Speaking of wine cellars, make sure you keep the whiskey in an upright position, especially if it’s a corked bottle.

While the horizontal position is great for storing wine, whiskey has much more alcohol in it, and the cork won’t be happy about being submerged in whiskey. Either the cork might disintegrate a bit, or the taste of whiskey will be affected, or both. If it’s a bottle with a screw cap, that’s less of an issue.

Once you open the bottle, the most important thing is to seal it tightly each time you put it back into storage. And to retain the best quality, use the original cap or cork.

If that’s not an option, a wine stopper should do the trick, especially if you don’t plan on keeping the bottle around for more than a few months.

Tip

If the bottle is less than half full, and you don’t expect to finish it anytime soon, pour the whiskey into a smaller one. This way it’ll better retain its quality.

As for where to keep the open bottle, nothing changes. It can still sit in the pantry, kitchen, or the cellar.

If you prefer to serve whiskey chilled, put it in the fridge in the afternoon, so it’s ready for the night. Of course, nothing ill will happen if you decide to keep the bottle in the refrigerator all the time.

Bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey
(credit: Jack Ward)

How Long Does Whiskey Last

The first thing about the shelf life of whiskey that you should know is that whiskey doesn’t age once bottled. All the aging is done in the casks.

That means there’s no point in trying to keep it around for as long as possible. It won’t get better or anything.

In other words, if you bought a bottle of whiskey in the ’70s and stored it properly, it should taste almost the same in 2000 and 2030. I’ve used the word almost, because even a perfectly sealed bottle, over many years, will let some air inside. And the access to fresh air alters the taste of alcohol.

While some producers put a best-by date on each bottle, that’s either a formality or to make the potential buyers trust the product more. Either way, unopened whiskey lasts pretty much indefinitely. As I mentioned earlier, it might very slightly change its taste over time, but it won’t spoil.

Pouring whiskey into glass
(credit: Dylan de Jonge)

Once you open the bottle, whiskey is exposed to air, and the process of taste change somewhat accelerates. And at some point, the shift in taste will be so pronounced, that you might find the bad and decide to throw it out for quality purposes.

But there’s no way of telling when exactly will that happen. What’s pretty certain is that the more alcohol in the bottle, the slower the taste degradation process.

That means if you have a fifth of a bottle left and it sits in the pantry for two years, it probably won’t taste anywhere near it used to. That’s why I recommend pouring the whiskey into a smaller bottle when the original one is less than half full.

Having said all of that about whiskey and air exposure, many people find that they like the whiskey more after a few days of opening the bottle.

Once you unscrew the whiskey for the first time, the alcohol releases some of the volatile compounds and evens out the taste over the next few days. Any many people like such whiskey more than drinking it straight after uncorking or unscrewing for the first time.

 Pantry
Whiskey (unopened)Stays fine indefinitely
Whiskey (opened)1+ years

Please note that the period for opened whiskey is only a rough estimate for the best quality.

Whiskey on the rocks
(credit: SBSTNC)

How To Tell If Whiskey Is Bad

As I mentioned already a few times, whiskey doesn’t really go bad.

But life happens, so if the bottle is leaky, the cork heavily damaged or moldy, just discard the alcohol. Same thing if it has developed an odd or funny smell. Please note that chances of either one of these happening are slim to none.

There might be some sediment at the bottom of the bottle. That’s quite typical for whiskey that’s not filtered, and it’s nothing to worry about. It might look weird or somewhat gross, but that’s about it. Make sure you don’t drink those particles though.

If everything about the whiskey seems fine, give it a sip, and decide what to do with it based on the taste. If it’s good enough to drink, feel free to continue using it. Otherwise, it’s probably time to let it go.

1 thought on “Does Whiskey Go Bad?”

  1. My husband has a small bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old Time Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey 100ml Old No.7 brand. Had this bottle for several years stored on top of china cabinet. End of July never opened until then he mixed with Soda for a casual drink for a day or so in the evening. He then got extremely sick rushed to ER test reviled Pancreatic attack and sugar shot up being Diagnosed as being Diabetic for the first time. One of the question from medical staff was Has he been drinking and we said yes but not overly drinking. His pancreas had no issues such as tears or rips but some bacteria must of cause his pancreas to react badly throwing out this sugar levels causing diabetic issues. He was in ICU for one or so weeks. This small amount of drinking was the only thing out of the normal. We found out by medical staff that alcohol can go bad.

    I tried the whisky a teaspoon in a hot-toddy w/lemon & honey when my throat was feeling sore and the next I had diarrhea for the entire day and buttocks was sore/raw from the diarrhea and the only thing common in both my husbands illness and my issue was this whiskey. I have read the previous information on storage. We were unaware it had to be stored in a special way and is not on the bottle how to store. We are convinced that this whiskey is bad and caused both our illnesses but just with my husband it was severe.

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