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Oct 7, 2012 12:24 PM

Old Scotch

Wine drinker here.

My mother passed away and I'm cleaning out her liquor cabinets. There is a sealed bottle of Glenmark Blended Scotch Whiskey that may be 30 years old.

Is this likely to be drinkable? It's been kept in the dark, it's still in the box (cardboard) that it came in, but I don't think it was very expensive to begin with.

I've had to dump many bottles of red wine past their prime, and it hasn't been a pleasant experience.

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  1. It doesn't matter how long the Scotch is in the bottle. A bottle of Johnnie Walker Black 12-Year Old Scotch Whisky that was purchased in 1962, and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black 12-Year Old Scotch Whisky purchased in 2012, are BOTH 12-year old whisky. Any difference in taste is attributable to a change in the blend, rather than bottle age. In other words, that bottle bought in 1962 is a 50 year old bottle of 12-year old Scotch.

    Wine ages in the bottle. Distillates do not.

    4 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      Almost true. There are a number of advanced tasters who state that aging and especially integration continue to occur, albeit very slowly. One should not overlook the effects of "corking" as bad or dry corks can negatively affect the spirit.

      1. re: Capn Jimbo

        Presuming screwcaps and/or a "tight" seal, I've never detected any difference in the 35+ years I've been in the trade. Once the bottle is opened, and the bottle is only partially filled, then there is certainly a difference over years.

        In my experience, I've found that -- checking with the distiller -- the differences between older, unopened bottles and new have more to do with changes in production. But that's been my experience. YMMV.

        1. re: zin1953

          Zin, there was once an extremely interesting "Epistle" over at the Malt Maniacs regarding this issue. Sadly, I can't seem to find it anymore. As you may know the Maniacs are an amazing and very experienced group, having tasted and rated thousands of obscure and sometimes very old spirits. They agreed that there were subtle, but noticeable changes.

          I'll quote another resource:

          "The key in understanding whisky bottle ageing lies in understanding the change that red wine undergoes during bottle ageing. The two key elements here are air and tannins.

          1. Just underneath the cork, there is always a bit of air in the bottle that can react with the wine. And furthermore, no cork can seal a bottle tightly enough to disallow any exchange of air with the outside. The exchange may be only minimal but it is there.

          The interaction of wine with air is commonly called oxidation. This is a bit of a misconception because wine is not a homogenuous material like iron that can rust. It is a very complex mixture of many chemicals, some of which actually do oxidise and some of which are inert to the influence of oxygen.

          2. The tannins contained in the wine – resulting from the stems and pips of the grapes as well as from the cask wood – slowly react with other substances to form new aromatic compounds.

          In bottled whisky, exactly the same things happen. The process is much slower though because the alcohol forms a kind of coating around the reactive molecules that first has to be overcome by the reactants. And then, whisky has less tannins than red wine because the spirit itself does not contain any. All tannins present in whisky have been leeched out of the cask wood. This might also explain why especially old bourbon whiskey seem to beneftit drastically from bottle ageing. I remember one of the Malt Maniacs e-pistles where there is an amazing report about a tasting of some very old American whiskeys. Due to their maturation in fresh oak casks there should be more tannins present in those than in your average scotch.

          So in my opionion it would be foolish to believe that all of the hundreds of chemical substances that are present in whisky would become totally inert right after bottling."

          Hope that helps. YMOV (Your mileage obviously varies, lol)...

          1. re: Capn Jimbo

            "The alcohol forms a kind of coating around the reactive molecules"? I'm sorry but that is balderdash. On the scale of human time (decades) - there really isn't anything going on.

    2. I think the question was whether or not is was drinkable, and the answer is: almost certainly. If the bottle seems reasonably full (i.e. not a lot of evaporation), pop it open and give it a sniff. I'll probably be fine to drink. But, as Zin pointed out, don't expect some superior product due to the long time during which it's been sitting in the box.

      1. Should be fine. Scotch doesn't "go bad" in the way that a wine would. If anything, time might dull some of the flavors, but it won't go to piss like an old bottle of opened wine.

        5 Replies
        1. re: The Big Crunch

          Thanks to all. I just want to avoid another unpleasant experience. I certainly didn't think it would have gotten better with age.

          However, it doesn't sound like any of you have direct experience with dealing with something like this. I will wait until there are several brave drinkers available before I pop it open.

          1. re: 512window

            Trust us - under normal storage conditions an unopened bottle of scotch (and most other liquors) doesn't get better or worse with age.

            1. re: 512window

              No, I don't have any personal experience drinking a possibly 30 year old bottle of Glenmark Blended Scotch Whiskey. However, I did inherit a 30 year old bottle of Chivas from my mom after she cleaned out her liquor cabinet a year or so back. She and my late father bought it on their honeymoon and never got around to drinking it, which probably wouldn't have mattered since, oddly enough, both soon learned they didn't care for the taste of whiskey.

              The whiskey was fine, if somewhat unremarkable, as Chivas (IMO) tends to be.

              If you'd like to see well-known Scotch vlogger Ralfy sample a nearly fifty year old bottle of Johnny Walker Red with no ill effects, check here (


              Again, there should be absolutely nothing wrong with the liquor, so bravery in those drinking it is really not called for.

              1. re: 512window

                I cannot speak to the science and tannins and so forth in whiskey but I can tell you that an old friend drank a bottle of 20-year old Glenlivet. He died, but not for another several years. he said it tasted fine and I'd take his word for it 'cuz he knew his whiskey..

                On the personal side, in the 1970's a school friend found several bottles of prohibition and pre-prohibition whiskey in his grandfather's root cellar in Massachusetts. One was Johnnie Walker (still with cork) and another was Black & White. We tried them, with my friend's father who was more competent that we were becuase we were still fairly young men. They were both fine to me but my friend's father said they were much better than the then-current offerings of either distiller. Those bottles were at least 40 years old then. They kept several others unopened for souvenirs and could probably sell them to the distilleries collection if they cared to.

                1. re: hazelhurst

                  Ralfy's opinion was that the older bottle of JW Red was far superior to the current bottling, which he was not too keen on.

            2. mail it to me. i will happily sample it for you.

              if its ok, ill send it back. if you dont hear back from me, i died. (or kept it for myeslf)

              1. I can tell you that it will be fine to drink but don't expect any great scotch. My father in law was not much of a drinker. Before he passed, he gave his liquor collection to me since he knew I appreciated whiskey. There were several bottles of various blended Scotches and Canadian whiskys.The oldest was from the early 60s. Drank them all over time. Nothing remarkable about them. Would have traded them all for a good true 25 year old scotch. Kept the bottles with the seals on them just because I thought it was cool to have bottles that were older than me.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Bkeats

                  512 window

                  There is nothing wrong with the bottle if it remains sealed.

                  As you prefer wine which many of us do, why not the gift it to someone who enjoys scotch ?
                  Perhaps during the coming holidays, and better than a hotpad or a fruit cake.

                  1. re: SWISSAIRE

                    Sounds like all you scotch drinkers think that it will be fine. Thanks!

                    I didn't just give it away to someone else because I didn't want to give them something that had gone bad. After dumping about two cases of raisin-ade with lumps down the drain, I was a little nervous.

                    If I do try it, I will report back. And I really wish it was a single-malt - those I've tried and liked.