Got a dozen bottles of half-finished whisky at home?
We’ll hold our hands up and say, us too!
Different whiskies are better suited to different occasions and it’s nice to have a little choice. But when a bunch of opened bottles have been lurking at the back of the cupboard for a long time, it does make you wonder – is it still okay to drink? Or does whisky expire?
Here’s everything you need to know about the shelf life of your favourite tipple.
Has your whisky gone bad?
Probably – but it’s nothing personal, just science.
Sealed whiskies are absolutely fine. As long as the bottle remains unopened and is stored correctly, it could (in theory) last for decades – provided you can resist its deliciousness for that long! And it will pretty much taste the same as it did on the day that you originally bought it.
However, once the seal is cracked, the clock starts ticking.
Technically speaking, whisky can never truly spoil or ‘go bad’ – as in, you won’t get ill because you dared to drink a dram that was opened last Christmas! But once the bottle is open and you’ve poured a couple of drinks, it is at risk of something called ‘flavour drift.’
Over time, the flavour profile of the whisky – so carefully curated by the distillery – will start to change and deteriorate. The overall alcohol content will alter, and the colour may also begin to fade.
Whisky doesn’t expire and it won’t necessarily taste bad, but it will taste very different.
This process of ‘flavour drift’ usually happens for three reasons:
- Exposure to oxygen
Oxygen is your dram’s greatest enemy.
Essentially, it interacts with and breaks down the molecules that give it its unique taste and aroma. And after a while, this process will have a noticeable (sometimes negative) impact on its flavour.
As soon as you take off the bottle cap, it’s no longer airtight, and the whisky is exposed to oxygen. You then start a countdown, which gets faster every time you pour yourself another drink. If there’s more headspace in the bottle, that’s more space for oxygen – and the oxidisation rate will increase.
- Exposure to light
Sunlight can also have a big impact on the shelf life of your opened bottle of whisky.
Just like oxygen, direct UV rays can break down the molecular structure of the spirit – and over time, this can change its colour and significantly reduce its alcohol content, thereby affecting the taste.
- Temperature fluctuations
When it comes to the long-term storage of open bottles, a stable temperature is key.
Whisky contains chemical compounds – called terpenes – which are partially responsible for its aromas and flavours. Temperature changes can alter and degrade these compounds, making them weaker. Plus, it can cause the whisky to expand and contract, absorbing oxygen along the way.
These processes will alter the taste of the whisky, sometimes even rendering them undrinkable! Which is why, you should aim to keep an open bottle at a consistent temp of around 15-18˚C.
Exactly how long do you have to drink up?
Most experts agree, from the point at which you crack open a bottle and enjoy your first snifter, whiskies can usually last for up to 2 years. However, this is only if the bottle is at least half full.
Once you hit the quarter-bottle mark, it’s only likely to last for a further 6 months.
Of course, these are only estimates. Depending on oxygen and sunlight exposure, plus temperature fluctuations, the numbers may go up and down – and the exact length of time it takes for flavour drift to occur can vary.
To keep your drams as fresh as possible, it’s therefore important to store them in ideal conditions. Keep them out of direct sunlight, preferably somewhere that experiences a consistent temperature (e.g. a dark cupboard, cellar or basement) and try to finish the bottle within 3-6 months.
After all, whiskies are meant to be enjoyed – not hoarded!
Let them sit for too long and the factors outlined above will change the intended profile that the distiller was aiming for. And at that point, you’re not getting what you paid for.
Switch to our whisky miniatures
Ashamed to admit how many whiskies are currently open in your kitchen cupboard?
Perhaps you just enjoy a little tipple every now and then, and could never get through a full bottle in 3 months? Or maybe you want to extend your whisky repertoire, without breaking the seal on a full bottle every time?
We have the perfect solution.
Here at Whisky Tasting Company, we partner with a wide range of whisky giants – from Scotland and beyond – who allow us to decant their spirits into our own bottles. As such, we’re able to produce a fantastic selection of whisky tasting sets – all featuring three or five whisky miniatures.
Measuring 30ml each, these miniatures are just enough to sample the unique flavour profile of each spirit – without the worry of leaving the full bottle on the shelf, opened and at risk of flavour drift.
Whether you’re just starting to dabble in drams or are a full-blown connoisseur, we have a whisky tasting set to suit everyone. And as a bonus, each one comes with a series of tasting cards – featuring facts and information about the whisky and its distillery – and a luxury tasting mat.
So why not stop buying the full-sized bottles and letting your much-loved whiskies go to waste, and take a look at our full online collection of tasting sets instead?
If you have any questions about the products available in our store or would like further insight into how to store whisky correctly (and keep it at its best), please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You’re always welcome to give us a call on 01743 247220 or you can fill out our online contact form and we’ll respond to your enquiry as soon as possible.