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How long do unopened bottles of hard liquor/liquers stay drinkable for? And opened?

I don't drink much hard liquor at all, for no particular reason. But, years ago, I did establish a little bar in my wall unit. I have bottles of scotch, rye and a few other things, unopened, for at least 10 years. My joke is that the 12 year old scotch is now twice that, at least.

Then there's the open vodka, dark rum, light rum, amaretto, frangelico, brandy, grand marnier and framboise that I do drink and cook/bake with, but which I have had for quite awhile also, some maybe a couple of years. How can I tell if this is still usable, even for cooking/baking?

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  1. In general, distilled spirits are quite hardy. Unopened bottles of whiskey can last for generations. An unopened ten or 12 year old Scotch or rye should be good as new (assuming it has been handled properly, not subject to extreme temperatures, etc.). Opened, it will still last many years, though you might have a little fading of flavor due to oxidation, which will increase as you use the liquor and the amount of oxygen in the bottle increases.

    I assume this would be the same for vodka and rum which are similar distillates.

    I'm not sure about the liqueurs, whose flavor may fade faster, once opened, than the other liquors.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sku

      I have a bottle of Sandeman scotch that I bought a long time ago (maybe 1975) mostly because the bottle was said to be a special very small run by the company for some honored friend (the Don is white???) but which in the end was not given to its intended recipient but sent to commercial channels. So I bought it for the bottle, the box, the tax stamp, etc., and still have all that; I never opened it. But it had a cork stopper, and as a result the angels have apparently gotten most or all of it. So whether the scotch quality lasted or not, apparently one risk is that it will simply disappear.

    2. Rather indefinitely. Beware of the dried and brittle corks. Once opened things change. Oxidation is one issue, but I have also had a few that lsot some more to "the Angel's share." Once bottle that I left a few drams in suffered a lot of evaporation. When I tired it after a while, the brown liquid was no longer a spirit, just a murky, waterly liquid. The alcohol evaporated faster than the water in the whiskey. It was once good stuff. Alas.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Captain

        So....the opened bottle of gin my new inlaws bought when they stayed with us for our wedding 18 years ago...should I toss that?

        1. re: danna

          No. It should be OK, but . . . it won't kill you to taste it. If it's been stored in a warm location, the alcohol may have evaporated somewhat, but itf properly stored it should be fine.

          Over time, it will lose some of its aromatics.

          1. re: danna

            Trying it is not going to hurt you. If all the alcohol has evaporated, then you won't want it anyway. So long as it has about 5 percent alcohol nothing bad should be able to grow in it. In the "New Complete Joy of Homebrewing" one of the good things made clear is that once beer is fermented, nothing pathenogenic can grow in it. Beer has as little as about 3.5 percent alcohol. So pretty much all of the alcohol needs to evaporate before something (other than the alcohol itself) can grow in it that will make you ill. If the bottle is still near full, it is not bad.

            I have been told, and also told otherwise, that distilling beer (as if you were to make your own whiskey) can create a dangerous product, but that is because distilling concentrates some of the by products of yeast, such as the fruity esters one might taste in an ale.

        2. Taste them and see!

          If they're true distilled spirits as opposed to say, fortified wine, they should last quite a while, years even. It helps to keep them in a cool, dark place: sunlight and warmth are bad for them, accelerating discoloration, alcohol evaporation, and in sweet liqueurs, crystallization of sugars.

          I've also found that cream liqueurs can spoil over time; I had a friend recently sample some Bailey's that's been sitting on my bar for years (where the heck it came from, I have no idea), and it had turned.

          5 Replies
          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Okay, so scotch, rye, gin, vodka and rum should be okay if not opened? Given that I don't drink the first three and the bottles are sealed, I am going to leave them sealed, since (don't laugh) I would not know what they are supposed to taste like anyway. Basically, I think the rest of what's there is/are liquers and I guess I can peer in the bottles and see if they look separated or there are signs of crystals or settling on the bottoms of the bottles. I think there is an unopened bottle of Baileys there and I will just take a shot and leave it there unopened for now.

            By the way, all of this has been stored out of direct sunlight. Never gets that cold in the apartment, but occasionally gets kinda warm, though I do run the a/c all summer.

            Guess I need to invite some drinkers over...

            1. re: Shayna Madel

              The Bailey's may be bad even if it is unopened. It only has around a two year shelf life unopened, and supposedly six months opened if kept in the fridge.

              Personally I think Bailey's is bad right from the start. Has a weird chemical taste and plasticy mouthfeel.

              1. re: JMF

                The Bailey's was a gift--not my thing nor do I know anyone who drinks it...Buy boy, I do so much want to try it now! Yum!

                1. re: Shayna Madel

                  Bailey's, because it's a cream-based drink, will indeed go bad over time. Straight distillates -- gin, vodka, whisky, etc. -- should be fine over time as long as they are UNopened. Once opened, they begin to s-l-o-w-l-y lose some of their aromatics, and -- if in a warm environment -- some of the alcohol may evaporate.

                  But it will not be harmful to taste.

                2. re: JMF

                  I think it started getting nasty after they replaced the Irish whikey with 'other than standard' wine... no telling what other stuff they put in there once they started cheapening it up?

            2. My folks don't drink much at all, but keep a full alcohol cupboard for guests. Last Christmas, a guest discovered an unopened bottle of Remy Martin cognac that my late grandfather had bought in the 70s (store label still attached!). It tasted pretty amazing.

              1. I once had an opened bottle of Danziger goldwasser last a decade before I doled out a liqueur glass of it to each guest on Christmas or New Years eve. I've never heard of or had a bottle of booze of any sort spoil. Non fortified wines are the exception, but even fortified wines are pretty stable.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Caroline1

                  Fortified wines generally are more stable than table wines, true, but Porto is not all THAT stable -- many of the aromatics and some of the flavor begins to fade rather quickly. The older the Porto, the more quickly the "damage" is noticed.

                  With Sherry, the opposite is true -- young Spanish Finos and Manzanillas fade and fall apart rather quickly. An aged Oloroso can last a long time, but isn't indestructible. Aged Madeira, OTOH, may come closest to lasting forever . . . at least it seems to suffer the least "fading" of aromatics once opened.

                  Cheers,
                  Jason

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Vermouth is another fortified wine that people don't think about as such. It -will- go bad, and your Martini or Manhattan will not taste good, if you leave it out at room temperature. Store it in the fridge and it will last for some time, but still not forever.

                2. Last night, I was packing up bottles because we are renovating our house. Among the bottles were some with not much in it, including a Laphroaig bottle I've had for at least 15 years. It tasted just fine. Time had really had caused no bad effects.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Captain

                    Exactly!

                    I presume it was a bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year Old Scotch, or rather, what you had was a 15 year old bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year Old Scotch. Opening a newly purchased bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year Old Scotch, and tasting it side-by-side with a bottle purchased fifteen years ago, should show very subtle differences -- often more to do with style, rather than any actual differences between the whiskies.

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Interesting coincidence. After a discussion of Iodine aromas in very coastal Scottish malts, I recently checked one I thought I remembered for that: A cask-strength North Port 23-year old (Mitchell Bros. "Rare Malts Selection" bottling, distilled 1971, bought in UK 1996 for 48 pounds sterling). It was the tail end of the bottle. Last sampled a few years ago. It had lost a little subtlety, but also its sharp edges, including any Iodine. But at the same time, had mellowed in proportion. In other words, whatever it lost after being opened 11 years ago (and recorked) was not lamented.

                      This is exactly typical of my experience with artisanal spirits. They last, with slight loss of detail, a long time, provided you keep them cool and, even more important, well concealed from any neighbors, business partners, or in-laws who consume with equal relish (and in great quantity) industrial whiskey, rare malts hand-carried from overseas, or vanilla extract. (I say this only theoretically of course.)

                  2. We just found an unopened bottle of Baily's... it was a gift 6 or 7 Christmas's ago... I heard laughter and the clinking of a butter knife inside glass... I found my wife extracting this thickened substance from the bottle... looked like pudding... there was actually a tiny bit of liquid at the very bottom of the bottle... yep, still smelled \ tasted fine, just weird...
                    OTOH - We've had some weird experiences (as if that wasn't *weird* enough...) with fresh bottles of tequila (reposado \ 100% agave only) that would change flavors within two weeks of opening... rather disappointing... as one friend has shared, one should always finish a fresh bottle of tequila in one sitting :)... anyone else had this experience of tequila shifting flavors? Storage has always been in room temp \ darkened cabinet...

                    1. I have quite a large selection of various alcohols--mostly opened. I am concerned that the extreme heat in my place during the summer months will render all that booze useless. There's half a bottle of Remy Martin XO ($100) that's been sitting for years. I consume a snifter occasionally and haven't noticed any ill taste, but maybe I should try a glass at a hotel bar to compare.

                      KurtG, your friend finishes a bottle of tequila in one sitting? Unless I had some help or was going on some 'lost weekend' bender, I don't think that would be possible. I enjoy an occasional shot of really good sippin' tequila. Should I just buy the little airplane bottles from now on?

                      1. My three experiences:

                        At a family gathering in the late 60's (before I was of drinking age), cousin George produced a bottle of Old GrandDad from an estate he had settled which was allegedly bottled in (or before) 1949. Anticipating the savor of well-aged bourbon, the adult consensus was dour looks of "What's this?" and confirmation that it tasted like "old wood shavings." Lesson #1: bourbon does not age in glass.

                        My bro' gave me a bottle of Macallan 25 for my 40th birthday. Sipping and sharing most sparingly, ten years went by until I got down to the last third of a dry corked bottle that tasted like - you guessed it - old wood shavings. Lesson #2: even the best of scotches in their fancy boxes need to be consumed within a reasonable time period.

                        I was extremely fortunate to have been invited to an Armagnac tasting presented by Sempe Armagnac in 2000. We tasted Armagnacs from various years back through the 1940's until the Directeur General uncorked a bottle of 1914 Grande Reserve and passed it around. Kegged in that year, it had remained in oak until 1990 when it was transferred to glass as the oak was starting to rot. It was the distilled spirits experience of a lifetime. Lesson #3: Spirits need to be in wood until they need to be rescued from the vehicle of their aging process.

                        I've also been to parties where none of the above are recognized. One inch of spirits in a bottle with a 25-year-old tax stamp does not impress me. However, I still have an almost full bottle of Creme de Menth from 1976 that still appears to be OK - but I haven't touched it since.

                        1. I have an unopened bottle of Cusano Rojo Mezcal picked up in Oaxaca back in the mid 70s. The worm is gone, the little packet of salt is gone. Can't even remember why I saved it in the first place. Been meaning to try it as a shooter and in a cantarita (?) or Paloma if I can ever find some of the Mexican grapefruit soda.

                          1. Non drinking friends of my parents would buy in spirits each Chritmas for entertaining guests. Every January they would pour away the leftovers as they would 'only go off'.
                            My parents wept.