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What do I toss from the liquor cabinet?

While trying to squeeze another bottle of some sample booze dh brought home into my cabinet, I realized there is probably some really old stuff in there. For example, a bottle of opened Pims that may be ten years old and then an unopened bottle that may be 7-8 years old. Is there a rule of thumb about how old long something can be kept before it's toxic?

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  1. The more alcohol in it, the longer it keeps. I'd toss any opened beer or wine, but anything stronger should be fine, as long as it's been kept closed and reasonably cool. I have 30-year-old liqueurs (the sugar helps too) that are still going strong.

    1. If they are cloudy, check them out. The opened Pimms is probably no good by now, the closed one is fine.

      1. If you haven't used it in 7+ years, chances are you're not going to use it. With the exception of high-end spirits (XO cognacs, single barrel whiskeys, and the like), I would ditch everything that you haven't touched in more than half a decade. If you want some later you can buy a fresh bottle. Chances are good that you won't.

        1. All of your liquor has gone bad. You need to send it to me for proper disposal by a licensed professional. ;-]

          1 Reply
          1. When I was younger I'd attend parties given by older friends/co-workers, and notice that some of the bottles in their bars would be dusty, and perhaps of a different design than currently offered at the time. I *swore* I'd never have old, dusty, evaporating bottles in my bar.

            Oh, boy. Now I'm older and wiser. This post impelled me to get rid of three bottles of exotic tequila brought back from Mexico by well-meaning friends (I don't drink tequila except in a margarita), a bottle of Pimm's cup that was last drunk by an uncle who's been dead for ten years, the ubiquitous (small) bottle of Galliano, some red-hot-cinnamon schnapps from when that was a novel idea, a couple of bottles of Chinese bei-jio (Sorghum spirits -- smells like formaldehyde, tastes worse). The prize winner was probably a bottle of Lillet, from 1987!

            (I *love* the post from John E O, who suggests sending "bad" liquor to him for "disposal by a licensed professional." I just love that!)

            5 Replies
            1. re: shaogo

              wish i could take all these unwanted bottles of Pimms off your hands, my wife and i love the stuff.

              1. re: wormwood

                Yes, my first reaction to these posts keeps being "Who on earth sn't drinking Pimm's?" We go through at least two bottles of the stuff every summer!

                1. re: wormwood

                  Oh, i still love a good Pimm's Cup. I just forget I have the stuff. Such a classy drink but hard to find in bars around here (Yorktown, VA).

              2. I've been told by good authority that anything with alcohol above 16.5% (ABV, by volume) will stay "non-toxic" indefinitely.

                1. Old opened bottles of aromatized wines (vermouths, Lillet, Dubonnet, retsinas, etc.) don't keep for more than a few weeks, months at best. You should VacuVin and referigerate newly-opened bottles to keep them from spoiling.


                  1. Like the licensed professional part!! Where do I take that test for certification?

                    Liquor of any significant proof should be fine for quite a while, though I hear murmering about cream liqueurs.

                    I've heard that experts claim that interaction with air, once opened, will sap the flavors and subtleties of spirits. "Fatigued and spent" is something we often see in these older, opened bottles. They will tell you that once the bottle is opened and about a third gone, you've got to finish it off.

                    I personally have never been able to taste the difference. But then again, I drink the stuff pretty quickly that I like and don't buy a second bottle of things that have been laying around for a long time so I've never actually put this theory to trial.

                    --Neal (Proof66)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: proof66

                      "Fatigued and spent" is definitely the phrase. I went through my enormous spirits collection and every bottle that had been opened and not finished within six months had lost a lot of the character. I ended up giving away several hundred partially full bottles in the past few months, just so they would get drunk while still good. I have a lot of happy friends. Now I have a lot more space to get new bottles too.

                    2. When I got divorced my half of the bar liquers and liquors were packed in boxes for 15 years, and when I finally took them out and drank them, they were like nectar. Imagine an extra 10 years aging on anything with a decent alcohol content (except creamy liquors like Irish Creams, etc). Can't speak for them.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: pyangas

                        i'm not sure liquor "ages" in the bottle, like wine does. the aging of most liquors is done in bulk, in oak, and at a higher alcohol content than what ends up in the bottle. i can't speak with much authority on this, but i have noticed deterioration in whiskeys that were sitting around. perhaps because they had been opened.

                      2. if you notice these things starting to pile up you can always throw a party with a couple of themed cocktails to purposefully use stuff up (seriously, hand someone a pimm's cup, or whatever, as their starter cocktail when they arrive). if whiskey, rum, brandy, cognac aren't getting drunk fast enough you can cook with them. if you have a bunch of vodka, brandy, or gin varieties, all with 1/4 or less in the bottles gathering dust and taking up shelf space, why not play with an infusion project--mix same-type liquors. (yeah, oh the horror! whatever-- you're not drinking them, you may as well mix 'em in an infusion and you don't need to tell anyone). unopened bottles are fine, as noted. partial bottles of foofy schnapps or other things you never want to drink again can be benevolently bestowed on your favorite college student (of legal drinking age) for prompt disposal.

                        1. Last ;year I attended a "battle of the vile" at a friend's house. I came armed with Fernet Branca. He pulled out some black glass scary bottle of German bitters that he brought back from Europe and won.

                          At the end of the evening, we tried two age comparisons. One was between a new and a decades-old bottle of blended whiskey. The other was with, as I recall, Cassis. The whiskey showed so significant difference (whatever difference there was was lost in experimental error and bottle-to-bottle variation). The Cassis however was hugely different. The fresh bottle was full of ripe fruit flavors -- bright and vibrant. The older bottle (not that old, as I recall) was oxidized and muted tasting, and not in a good way.

                          Liqueur makers really need to respond to this with reasonably-priced small bottles. I mean, really, exactly how long is it going to take to drink up a fifth of Creme de Violette, using it 1 tsp at a time?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: EvergreenDan

                            Dan- One problem for distillers with small bottles is that they cost the same as larger bottles, so your glass expense can double or triple using smaller bottles.

                            1. re: JMF

                              Solution: charge more? Not sure it would work for everything but for some products, especially something like the Creme de Violette mentioned by Dan, I would definitely pay a dollar or two extra (ounce for ounce) for a smaller bottle. My bottle of R&W is filled to just below the top edge and it's a year old at this point... What am I going to do with all of that stuff except throw it out once it goes totally south? Some companies, e.g. Mathilde, do package their liqueurs in 375mL bottles. I wish more would do that.

                            2. re: EvergreenDan

                              Understood. I assumed as much. And the bottler has a profit incentive to have unused product on the customer's shelf (spoiled or not). I'm not expecting to pay the same price per ounce.

                              Looking at it from a profit maximizing perspective, I believe that many consumers would buy more product if they didn't expect it to spoil. Milk comes in 3 sizes (more if you count single-serving -- i.e. milk "nips"). They are priced accordingly, reflecting a bulk purchase incentive, packaging costs, and handling costs (about the same price per unit to stock a shelf from a labor perspective. Eggs come in (more or less) one size because they last a long time and the average consumer can easily eat a dozen eggs before the spoil (or kill someone in a Earl Gr.... j/k).

                              The need for smaller packaging is low for products that have a very long or indefinite shelf life and which will eventually be consumed within a reasonable time (say a few years). For example, kirschwasser fits that bill in my house. OTOH, I have a bottle of Violette that I'm reserving a small space in my coffin for, because I use it a tsp at a time, and seldom at that. Why was I forced by the bottler and liquor store to buy 750 ml of the stuff? Bars? Fine. But for retail distribution, there is a strong need for smaller packages. The more esoteric the libation, and the shorter the shelf live, the greater the need. St Germain is an excellent example, with its claimed 1/2 year shelf life.

                              There are a number of new bottles that I would buy if I could have them in a reasonable size. Space is also a consideration. The growing collection in the fridge isn't appreciated by my wife.

                              So, to make the concrete. I have Green but not Yellow Chartreuse. I don't have room or desire for another 750ml bottle of Yellow (at $50). But I would probably buy a 375ml bottle at, say, $35. And that bottle would last me a loooong time, I bet. Same for Orchard Apricot (which I have) and Orchard Pear (which I don't). In fact, I'd say that I would most liqueurs, fortified wines, and amaros fit that bill. Spirits are less of an issue because a) they last and b) I can find many recipes to drink them up, if I want to. There are only so many recipes for Orchard Pear that I'm willing to drink.

                              Another way to look at it is that maybe smart bottlers don't really want spoiled or spent goods on the consumer's shelf. That oxidized giant bottle of vermouth isn't doing the reputation of vermouth any good. Neither is the tan cassis with the sludge at the bottom.

                              I hope that I've been convincing. As a consultant, perhaps you're in a position to help. :D

                              PS The folks that make Benedictine get it. Alas, they don't get that a short, sqat bottle takes up way more room than a tall skinny one. The Clear Creek folks get that. Now if only the would reconsider the price of the Doug Fir.

                              1. re: EvergreenDan

                                I agree that more should bottle in small bottles. I plan to. I have my bottles and sizes all picked out for when I go back into business in the near future.