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Jan 23, 2002 01:41 PM

Shelf life of alchoholic bevs, once opened

  • t

I've always wondered how long these things keep once the bottle has been opened, and would appreciate any tips on storing the open bottles.



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  1. I've been managing bars for more than 20 years so I have some experience with the question you ask. Spirits, like vodka, whisky, whiskey (they are different things), gin, etc, generally can be kept forever with this proviso: as the amount left in the bottle decreases the rate of degredation due to oxidation increases. Over time, and we're talking a couple of years, gin will lose its aroma while whisky and whiskey will lose color, flavor and aroma over time.

    One way to prevent this is to decrease the amount of air in the opened bottle. On valuable bottles I use those little glass balls that garden stores sell to fill the bottle in replacement of the booze I've consumed. I also keep my spirits in the dark, as light can also speed degredation.

    Wine will last a couple of days at most. Vermouth, although it is wine based, has a shelf life of a couple of months, as does port. Brandy and cognac, though grape based, last the same as other distilled spirits.

    Sugary cordials and liqueurs can last for a very long time, but as time passes and the boittle empties you run the risk that the sugars in the beverage will crystalize and the alcohol will separate out, which clearly ruins the bottle. Dairy based beverages like Baileys are so highly stabilized that they will act more or less like other liqueurs, though they run a slightly higher risk of separating.

    Generally, it is never a good idea to expose beverage alcohol to very high or low temperaures. Other than that you can pretty much just relax and enjoy them.

    19 Replies
    1. re: Deven Black

      Whoa, whoa, back up! What's the difference between whiskey and whisky?

      1. re: chris o

        An old Goon Show episode has one charactor -- having been hit with a batter pudding -- calling for a policeman. A constable shows up, and the charactor asks what the difference is.
        "They're spelled differently."
        "Well help me differently spelled policeman!"

        Actually, this is not appropos of your question since the difference between whisky and whiskey goes deeper than spelling. Whisky is scotch and only scotch. Whiskey can be Irish, rye, bourbon, American, Canadian, Japanese, or corn whiskey.

        1. re: Deven Black

          I made the mistake of quoting you on "whisky" only being Scotch. Unfortunately I got my ass handed back to me. Apparently your information is incorrect. While "whisky" referrs primarily to ANY whiskey distilled in the British Isles (Scotland, Ireland, England), it is not necessarily only those.
          For example, check out the label on Maker's Mark- a fine American bourbon-- spelled Whisky.

          1. re: Alan H

            I'm not sure who handed your ass back to you, but you should return at least one cheek to them. I have 17 bottles of Irish spirit and every single one of them has the word spelled "whiskey." I have Four bottles of Canadian, one bottle of Japanese and two bottles of bourbon and it is the same on all of those. I don't have any Maker's Mark so I'll take your word for it. All I can say is anyone can use the 'e' or not, but what I reported are the general conventions. Sorry if it caused you problems.

      2. re: Deven Black

        Deven, the OED (and our bottles)says that Scotch whisky has no 'e', but Irish whiskey does. Is that what you meant? Gee, the things I learn on Chowhound. Thanks for the interesting information.

        1. re: efdee

          "... the OED (and our bottles)says that Scotch whisky has
          no 'e', but Irish whiskey does. Is that what you meant?"

          Right in one. Rye, Irish, bourbon, Canadian, and Japanese whiskies all have the "e", but scotch does not.

          1. re: Deven Black
            Caitlin McGrath

            It has recently been pointed out to me by my fellow ChowNews copy editor that for Irish whiskey, the plural is whiskeys, not whiskies. For the others (including whisky), whiskies is correct.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              That's a new one on me, but then I always sold more scotch than Irish. I wonder what the originb of that distinction in plurals is.

              1. re: Deven Black
                Caitlin McGrath

                I don't know, but Hilary insisted that the distiction is important to Irish folks.

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  From the Bushmill's site:

                  "In colonial times, the word whiskey was an import. Whiskey, with an "e" is how the generic word is spelled when unconnected to a brand name. Most American and Irish distillers also use this spelling. Scottish and Canadian products are spelled without the "e" as in whisky."

                  .just a way to distinguish!


        2. re: Deven Black

          Can those separated cordials or liqueurs be re-homogenized? And if so, how many times can you do that?

          1. re: Daniel C

            As Basil says, once separated you want to toss that Baileys into the bin. I imagine you could gently heat crystalized Kahlua or other cordial, in a double boiler perhaps, to reliquify the sugar in it, but I've never tried it and I seriously doubt it would work because the alcohol would still be separated out.

            My general advice would be to not buy more than you intend to drink in a six or twelve month period, and enjoy it thoroughly.

            1. re: Deven Black

              I have a large bottle of kahlua brought to me from Mexico appr 8 years ago, I want to use it for desserts but not sure if safe. Of course I am too cheap to throw it out, also I have rum and whiskey ( gave the vodka away) We are not drinkers and had the liquor on hand for special occasions, but did't have many of them so over the years it just sat in the cupboard under the kitchen sink except for one bottle of vodka that was in the hall closet, the nephew that was staying with us for a while found it and drained it dry unbeknowest to me until I decided to clean the closet. He didn't even bother to fill it with water to throw me off. He's stupid anyway. The gist of this email is just to be sure the liquor has not turned to poison.

              1. re: Barbara

                I seem to remember reading about grain alcohol found in the Egyptian tombs that was as fresh as your Kahlua would be today (or maybe it was just plain grain?) due to the alcohol content. Anyway luckily, your nephew didn't know about Black Russians, then you wouldn't have had anything at all left. I definitely don't have experience with OLD Kahlua (my mother and I have an obsession wih Kahlua since it appeared on the market in the 60s), but I think anything with alcohol has a pretty long shelf life. If it pours, it must be OK. If you need us to come by and test it, let us know.

          2. re: Deven Black

            So where does that leave sake?? I always try to finish it in the next day or so, like wine, because I don't think I have much time, but am I right? Could I leave it a week?

            1. re: galleygirl

              My only experience serving sake was at one bar where we had a hot sake dispenser. Every day we'd fill the thing, and every night we'd drain it into a large jar which we filled it from the next day. As we never ever sold a single serving of the stuff this went on for several weeks, at the end of which two friends and I got thoroughly pickled on sake. It tasted fine. I hope that helps.

              1. re: galleygirl

                You can probably give yourself a few more days to finish off your sake (if you want to, of course!)--my experience has been that most stuff will stay good for about a week after opening. The non-pasteurized stuff goes faster, but I don't think you can generally get it outside Japan as it doesn't travel well.

              2. re: Deven Black

                I keep a bottle of potato vodka in the freezer--drink it neat with lemon peel, syrupy and shockingly cold, with caviar, smoked fish spread or pickled herring. A bottle will stay in the freezer for several months until finished off. I haven't noticed any degradation in flavor or potency by the end. I also keep my Boodle's gin in the fridge for colder martinis with less need for ice.

                1. re: Deven Black

                  just a quick question, can Gin kept for aprox. 20 years go bad, enough to cause violent stomach upset after one drink?

                2. Sake (the real, served cold, high quality stuff- the hot served sake in most restaurants is not worth drinking except as a last resort when desperate) and Port oxidate very, very quickly and start to lose flavor and change color within 3 days, vintage port that has been decanted should be drunk within two days.
                  Hard liquors once opened should be drunk within six months, the flavors start to change noticeably within two to three months, especially high quality stuff such as good Scotch / Bourbon and good Gin.