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Does whisky go bad?

18th January 2021 Print

So you have this bottle of whisky sitting in your cupboard for many years and now you’re wondering if it’s still any good.

Since you’re not a whisky connoisseur, you might assume that just like wine, whiskeys become better during storage and last pretty much forever. They don’t.

Before pouring yourself a glass of your whisky let’s explore the shelf life of this liquor and discover how you store it so you sip it at its best.

How to store unopened whisky

Did you know that the shelf life of your whisky largely depends on how you store it? However, it’s not like wine that gets better over time. Unlike other alcoholic drinks that become better during storage, whisky only matures in the cask, while it has contact to the oak wood.

Now let’s talk about the temperature. According to The Whisky Club, a whisky subscription, storing whisky is pretty much similar to storing vodka and rum. You should keep it in a dark and cool place where there is no sunlight and other heat sources. It’s not because heat could cause your whisky to spoil, but more because heat significantly affects how your whisky would taste.

If you have a pantry or a wine cellar at home, those are perfect storage solutions for your whisky bottles! You may also store your liquor in your liquor cabinet, but you need to make sure that the sunlight doesn’t reach it.

How about the position, you ask? That’s a good question. While it’s best to store wine in a horizontal position, it’s not ideal for whisky. Why? Because it has much more alcohol in it. Especially if your whisky bottle is corked, its cork won’t be happy about being submerged in whisky since it can either disintegrate it or affect the taste of the liquor altogether.

Speaking of corks, whisky corks don’t close as tightly as wine corks. You don’t want your whisky to spill, do you? So store it in an upright—not in a horizontal position.

Now if your whisky bottle has a screw cap and not a cork, how you position it should be less of an issue. Either way, it is important that you seal the bottle tightly each time you open it and put it back into storage. It’s also advisable that you use the original cap or cork to retain the premium quality of your whisky, but if that’s not an option, a wine stopper should do the trick.

Just a little more tip for storing your whisky: If your bottle is less than half full and you don’t mean to finish it in the near future, pour your whisky into a smaller bottle to retain its quality. You can store your opened whisky bottle under pretty much the same conditions as when you store an unopened bottle—you can even store it in the fridge if you want to serve it chilled for the night! You know, nothing will happen to your whisky even if you keep it in the fridge all the time.

Does whisky age when bottled?

Like we said, whisky doesn’t age when bottled. It only ages in the cask, where it has contact with the oak wood. That means if you purchased a bottle of whisky a decade ago and stored it properly, you shouldn’t expect it to taste any better than when you purchased it. The whisky you bought ten years ago should taste the same as the whisky you bought yesterday, so don’t think there’s any point in keeping your bottle of whisky around for many years in your bar. We can’t stress this enough: Storing your whisky for long won’t make it any better!

You may wonder, however, why some whisky bottles have a “best before” seal. If storing whisky for many years won’t alter its taste, then why do some producers put a best-by-date on each bottle? Again, that’s a good question. It’s basically because even a perfectly sealed whisky could let some air inside, and the access to fresh air may alter the taste of alcohol very slightly—but not spoil it or make it taste significantly better. This seal is also either a formality or intends to make you trust the product more. Either way, your unopened bottle of whisky should last pretty much indefinitely.

Now what if you open your whisky and it gets exposed to air? That will accelerate the process of taste change somehow. There are times when the shift in taste will be so pronounced that you might just want to throw your bottle of whisky away, but really, no one knows when exactly that will happen. What we can assure you is that the more alcohol your whisky has, the slower the taste shift gets.

So how can you tell if your whisky is bad?

Again, whisky doesn’t really go bad, but there are times when air exposure may cause its taste to change significantly to the point that you don’t want to drink it anymore. If your whisky bottle is leaky and your poor handling caused its cork to get moldy, it’s best to just discard the liquor. All the more if you find its smell a bit odd, although the chances are very slim.

If you’ve stored your whisky for a long time, you might also notice some sediments at the bottom of its bottle. Don’t worry because that’s normal for unfiltered whisky. You may find it gross, but that’s normal.

The bottom line is, if everything about your whisky looks good, take a sip before you decide whether to keep sipping or discard it based on its taste.