Does Whiskey Go Bad? Everything You Need to Know

What to know if you have a dozen bottles of half-finished whiskey in your cabinet.

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Chandler Bondurant

Your whiskey collection is going bad. It’s nothing personal, it’s just science.

When exposed to oxygen, the compounds that comprise whiskey begin a slow, steady change, warping the original flavor. We spoke to Colin Blake, Moonshine University’s Director of Spirits Education, about whiskey going bad and what you can do about it. Here’s everything you need to know but never thought to Google.

Once opened, the clock is ticking

Sealed whiskey isn’t at risk of what Blake calls “flavor drift.” But the moment you crack the seal and pour a few drinks, you’ve started the countdown clock, which only gets faster the more you drink. “More headspace means more air which means quicker oxidation,” Blake says.

Drink within three to six months

Whiskey may have a longer shelf life than beer or wine, but it’s not as long as people think. Blake recommends drinking opened bottles within three to six months to avoid flavor drift. “After a while, whiskey can adopt earthy, graphite, off-putting, textile-y flavors,” Blake says. “You really don’t want.”

Put special occasion whiskeys in smaller bottles

For everyone who keeps a bottle or two of the good stuff for important moments, Blake says it’s best to abandon the original bottle: “Just pour the whiskey into a smaller bottle with less headspace and less oxygen. It’ll keep longer that way, and you can keep the original bottle to show off if you want.”

Temperature change makes things worse

Stable temperature is a must when it comes to long-term storage of whiskey. Keeping any bottle in a location where the temperature shifts frequently — like, say, a bar cart by a sunny window — will cause the whiskey to expand and contract, absorbing oxygen along the way. Both opened and unopened bottles should be stashed in cabinets away from temperature-shifting sources like stovetops and vents.

To avoid problems, just drink it

Blake is a firm believer that whiskey is meant to be drunk, not hoarded. “The flavor drift will be slight at first, but if you let [whiskey] sit half-finished for too long, oxidation will change the intended profile a distiller was aiming at,” he says. “At that point, you’re not getting what you paid for.”

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