Does Whiskey Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

Ever found a bottle of whiskey hiding at the back of the liquor cabinet and wondered if it gets better with age or if it should be tossed? Is whiskey like a fine wine that gets better over time or can it go bad?

Left sealed in the dark, whiskey and hard liquors can last for years. The high alcohol content in liquors that have been reduced via distillation protects them from molds and bacterium that will destroy the product once the bottle has been sealed.

However, unlike wine, whiskey doesn’t get ‘better’ with age once bottled, and over time will undergo changes to the flavor, particularly once opened.

Whiskey Shelf Life

All whiskey varieties – including regular, rye, bourbon, scotch, and the famous Jack Daniels – have an almost indefinite shelf life when stored correctly, but there are things to consider for both opened and unopened bottles.

  • Unopened Bottles – When stored correctly, your whiskey can last at least 10 years – probably a lot longer – before there are noticeable changes to the taste or quality. Bear in mind that whiskey can still evaporate through the cork, so may start to decrease in volume even when still sealed.
  • Opened Bottles – An opened bottle of whiskey has a shelf life of anywhere from six months to two years. As the amount of liquid decreases, the amount of air increases, speeding up oxidation and changing the flavor of the whiskey.

glass of whiskey

If there is around half a bottle remaining, you should drink it within six months. If there is a quarter or less left, finish it up within three months.

How To Tell If Whiskey Has Gone Bad

Although whiskey does change over time, whiskey doesn’t go bad. Many whiskey connoisseurs actually enjoy the subtle alterations to taste and aroma that occur as whiskey gets “tired.”

Once opened, whiskey begins to evaporate. Because alcohol evaporates more quickly than water, you may lose some of the alcoholic kick, which results in a smoother more mellow drink.

The changes that happen when air reacts with whiskey are unpredictable – sometimes the whiskey may improve, and other times it may become unpalatable.

The lower the level of whiskey remaining, the faster the changes occur. Here are some things that may indicate your whiskey is over the hill.

  1. Check the color – As some of the watery components evaporate, whiskey may become darker and slightly syrupy. If it’s lighter in color, this may indicate it has been exposed to too much sunlight.
  2. Taste it – if it is less strong than you’re used to, with noticeable changes in flavor, it is likely old. However, it will be perfectly safe to drink if you still find it to your liking.

Can Old Whiskey Make You Sick?

Whiskey that has become oxidized is not unsafe to drink. It may taste and smell a bit different than normal, but there is no danger in consuming whiskey that is past its best.

How To Store Whiskey

Alcohol has two consistent enemies: Light and air. If your bottle of whiskey is left sealed and kept in darkness, it will last almost indefinitely.

Exposure to sunlight is a big no-no. The UV rays will fade out the color of the whiskey, as well as accelerating its natural decline.

Be aware that corked whiskey, unlike wine, should never be stored on its side. Whiskey corks do not seal as tightly as wine corks and whiskey can and will evaporate or leak through the cork over time.

If your whiskey has a screw cap, make sure you regularly give it a check and retighten the cap, as screw caps can loosen on their own.

After opening, you can protect your whiskey from light by keeping the liquor cabinet closed. Even protected from light, an already opened bottle will suffer from some air exposure, allowing for oxidation, which will alter the flavor of your whiskey.

If you dislike the flavor of oxidized whiskey but would like to store it for a longer period, you can pour it into smaller bottles once opened. This reduces the amount of air inside and helps the whiskey stay good for longer.

Whiskey lasts best at temperatures a bit cooler than room temperature – about 60-67 F – but at a pinch, room temperature storage will suffice. Avoid any temperature extremes or sudden changes in temperature.

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