keeping qualities of alcohol based drinks
I'm not sure I have the correct board for this question, but as I mainly have these items for cooking with rather than for drinking, I thought I'd try here first
Can anyone advise on the keeping qualities of the following once opened (they are stored in a cool cupboard in the garage, but are not refridgerated
Am I correct in thinking that pure spirits such as vodka, gin, scotch etc have a more or less limitless life?
Thanks for your help
The fortified wines should be kept in the fridge because they will start to oxidize very quickly, especially the Vermouth and Sherry. The Madeira less rapidly since it is already an oxidized fortified wine. The best thing to do is store in the fridge AND decant into smaller bottles so the bottle is as filled as possible with liquid and without a lot of air in it.
Spirits and liqueurs take much longer to oxidize and can be kept at room temp. although they do oxidize and evaporate slowly once the bottle is opened and the less liquid / more air in the bottle the more rapidly this happens.
Remember that your recipe will only be as good as the quality of ingredients. You shouldn't use bad wine for cooking because all it does is bring bad flavors to the dish, and the same goes for fortified wines, spirits, and liqueurs.
While I agree that one should NEVER use bad wine to cook with . . .
1) This does not mean that you have to cook with (e.g.) a $100 French Burgundy, but if you're making (e.g.) Bouef Bourgogne, you can and -- in my opinion -- should cook with a low-end, drinkable French Burgundy or Pinot Noir of some sort.
2) NEVER use a wine sold and labeled as "Cooking Wine" -- it only has salt added to it, and the recipe already calls (probably) for salt, etc., etc.
3) The type of Sherry is important to its oxidation rate -- a 15.5% alcohol Fino for example, will oxidize much more rapidly than an Oloroso or Cream (which will keep longer due to the higher alcohol and, in the case of the Cream Sherry, the residual sugar of the PX). That said, it is very true these will not keep forever. However, like Maderia, these aged Sherries have a certain level of oxidation "built in," if you will.
4) Spirits and liqueurs will be affected over the long term, but I do mean l-o-n-g. I've had bottles open for as long as perhaps three full years with no noticable difference, when tried side-by-side with a "new" bottle. I've also tried bottles of spirits and liqueurs that were opened for 10+ years and there *was* a noticable difference. One way to avoid this -- especially when it comes to liqueurs that one uses solely for cooking -- is to purchase smaller bottles, 375ml for example, instead of the full-size 750ml.
Temperature and light also make a difference. The warmer, the greater the changes in wine and spirits. Also the brighter the light the greater the changes. I saw a bottle of Hypnotiq, which is bright blue in color, bleach to pure white in less than two weeks exposure to bright sunlight, and it tasted like crud. (Although it didn't taste that good to start with.)
I have tasted opened bottles of aged rums that were kept in warm temps that evaporated quite quickly. They actually improved in taste for awhile before they started to taste off.
I have seen some liqueurs go off after around 3 months after they are opened because of heat and light.
For the purposes of COOKING ONLY, you won't really have a *serious* problem. For drinking, the answer is "don't." Vermouth goes off fairly quickly, so does Sherry (depending upon the type, some more rapidly than others). Madeira is the most stable of the wines you mentioned. Creme de Cassis is a liqueur and so -- like Vodka or Gin -- relatively limitless in terms of lifespan.
Can't speak to Madeira, but have personal experience with the others.
1)Dry Vermouth lasts in my cupboard for a good year. I haven't really had it go off. If you buy it for Martinis, you may notice more of a flavor difference. I snagged a bottle of sweet vernouth that my mother had for a least a year and it works fine too.
2) Cassis. Again, my bottle is at least a year old. I'm sure it won't keep indefinitely--evaporation and all, but creme de cassis has so much sugar in it, it's more like a syrup or liquer.
3) Sherry. I buy cheap sherry for cooking and it does fine in a cupboard for a year or so. Fine sherry lasts longer than regular wine, but for best taste, should be drunk within a week or so of opening. But if you're talking about Taylor or Fairbanks--don't worry about it.
Nothing can kill pure sprits, IMO. You do get evaporation. We cleaned out my grandmother's liquor cabinet when she moved--threw out the sticky and scary, parceled out the vodka and scotch with no ill effects.