How long does whiskey keep? In theory, almost forever. Distilled sprits won’t spoil or make you sick like milk, and they won’t turn to vinegar like beer and wine.
But in practice, a bottle of whiskey doesn’t last forever (if only!). Once a whiskey is opened, exposure to light, air, and temperature fluctuations start to change its flavor.
Initially, that can be a good thing. We’ve all had the experience of opening a bottle, tasting it right away, and not particularly enjoying its contents – but then coming back a month later to taste a spirit that feels much more integrated and cohesive.
A mix of open whiskies (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)
But what about the long term? Eventually, open bottles of whiskey will start to oxidize, losing some fragrance and flavor. Some say bottles should be finished within one to two years, while others say up to five years is alright, as long as you follow these recommendations:
Limit light. Your whiskey collection might be beautiful enough to display out in the open, but it’ll last longer if you keep it behind a cabinet door. Many whiskeys are packaged in dark glass bottles for exactly this reason. If your bottle came in a canister or box, that can provide another layer of protection.
Limit temperature fluctuations. Room temperature is OK, but try not to go hotter. Basements, root cellars, or even the bottom shelf in your pantry can all be good places to store your whiskey (we know, we know, your collection is anything but bottom shelf)
Limit oxygen. If you’re trying to keep a bottle around for a long time, consider investing in a vacuum sealer, the kind used by bars and restaurants to keep open bottles of wine fresher, longer. (Note: After publishing, we’ve learned that vacuum sealers are, at best, a very temporary solution, as the seal isn’t made to last as long as you’ll want your whiskey to. Whisky Kirk recommends decanting into smaller bottles, an elegant solution, while other collectors swear by a product called Private Preserve, a sprayable blend of inert gases designed to blanket the surface of your whiskey.)
Store bottles upright. Whereas wine should remain in contact with its cork to prevent it from drying out, stronger spirits will actually eat away at the cork, imparting off flavors to the spirit and potentially ruining the seal.
Lastly, and most importantly, stop saving that half-full bottle of fancy booze for a special moment! Start making your everyday more special by drinking that stuff, before it starts to lose what makes it fancy in the first place.
Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...