whiskey shelf life

Whiskey Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

So, you’re cleaning out your cupboard and find a half-full bottle of whiskey. It must have been there long enough to collect dust. You’re not quite sure if this liquor is still okay to drink. Does whiskey go bad? How long can you actually keep whiskey for?

If you’ve been in the same situation, you’re not alone. Although you’ve heard that hard liquor lasts for years, it’s still important to check one more time before pouring it into the glass.

In this article, we break down the most useful information on whiskey’s shelf life, storage, and signs of going bad. Sounds like something you’re looking for? Then, read on!

How To Store Whiskey

Before we go further, let’s clear up one trivial thing on the different spelling between whiskey and whisky. Both are similar alcoholic beverages prepared from the distillation of fermented grains with an average alcohol content of 40% ABV or 80 proof.

Whisky refers to distilled spirits from Scotland, Canada, and Japan. While whiskey refers to varieties from Ireland and the United States. This hard liquor is regulated in each country.

Whiskey (or whisky) is a generic term. Some of the most popular types are Tennessee whiskey, bourbon, scotch, and Irish whiskey. To keep it simple, in this article, we use whiskey from this point on.

When it comes to storage, it’s pretty much similar to how you store other liquors, such as rum, tequila, or vodka. The alcohol content preserves the liquid which makes it shelf-stable. That means a bottle of whiskey can safely stand at room temperature at all times.

Refrigeration is not required. Of course, you can keep it chilled before serving if you prefer.

Although whiskey is shelf-stable, it doesn’t mean you can carelessly put it anywhere in the house. The quality will degrade much faster with improper storage. Check these tips to make sure your whiskey still tastes as great until the last drop.

1. Pick a cool, dry, dark place, out of heat and light. If you are a collector, then you must have a liquor cabinet. Next to that, a cupboard, pantry, or a cellar is usually an ideal spot too. Heat and lights are detrimental to whiskey’s quality.

2. Avoid a humid place. While it doesn’t necessarily affect the whiskey (as long as unopened), the label may get moldy.

3. Store vertically. Similar to other liquors, whiskey also prefers to stand upright rather than on its side. If the bottle is sealed with a cork, keeping it on the side for the long term may cause the cork to disintegrate and leak the bottle.

4. Never leave a pourer on. After opening, always seal the bottle tightly. If you use a pourer, make sure to take it off before putting the bottle back to storage. If the container is left open, the air gets inside, speeds up oxidation, and alters the taste.

5. Transfer into a smaller container. If you’re left with a little amount in the bottle, consider transferring it into a smaller bottle or flask. This way, you can reduce contact with air and prevent evaporation from taking place. 

How To Tell If Whiskey Is Bad

Whiskey has an undeniably long shelf life. With proper storage, it won’t spoil like fresh produce does, thanks to the high alcohol content.

After opening, whiskey may suffer from flavor loss due to continuous evaporation and oxidation that take place slowly over time. If you have a half-full bottle (or even less) sitting in your liquor cabinet for years, it may not taste as great as a new bottle.

When kept in cold temperatures, whiskey turns a little cloudy. This is normal, and the cloudiness will disappear when brought back to room temperature.

If the whiskey was mishandled, perhaps left with pourer on, or the bottle leaks, you might see some noticeable changes in it. If whiskey smells foul, tastes strange, or some impurities get into the bottle, it’s better to throw it out.

When everything seems reasonable, take a small sip to determine if it’s still worth keeping. If the taste still meets your standard, that’s good. If whiskey tastes metallic, sour, or tastes off in any way, discard it.

How Long Does Whiskey Last?

Alcoholic beverages have a different range of shelf life. Distilled spirits, like whiskey, benefit a miraculously long life from the high amount of alcohol content. Unopened whiskey keeps for years to come if stored properly. (*)

Whiskey has been aged in wooden barrels (or casks) for a few years. During this aging period, whiskey develops the golden color and flavor from the woods.

The aging process stops once the liquid is bottled. That being said, you don’t need to wait for years to enjoy it. Whiskey doesn’t get better in your home storage.

After opening, physical and chemical changes can happen with exposure to air, humidity, light, etc. These changes are not necessarily harmful, but the flavor and taste can be affected.

Some experts suggest drinking whiskey within 6 months to 2 years after a bottle is unscrewed. Beyond this time frame, whiskey is likely safe to drink with declining quality.

Whiskey (unopened & opened)Keeps indefinitely

The real shelf life of your whiskey depends on the storage conditions. So, better give it a thorough check before serving.

See more: Irish whiskey vs Scotch whiskey


Can old whiskey make you sick?

With proper storage, whiskey is likely safe to drink for years to come. Whiskey is high in alcohol, which doesn’t support microbial growth that causes food poisoning. But, keep in mind that it may have suffered from flavor loss.

Unless whiskey is poorly handled, the alcohol content evaporates and leaves a little enough to let microbes survive. That’s a different story. Hence, better safe than sorry if you’re in doubt.

Does whiskey go bad in the freezer?

No, with 40% alcohol content, whiskey freezes at -10ºF (or -23ºC), a point which most home freezers won’t reach. But, you may expect a slight change in the flavor. (*)

Does whiskey go bad in the heat?

Exposure to heat doesn’t compromise the safety aspects but may degrade the flavor of the whiskey.

Final Thoughts

Whiskey or whisky is a high-proof liquor that has a fantastic shelf life. It doesn’t go bad in a typical sense of food spoilage, but it can suffer from flavor loss if not properly stored.

Store whiskey similarly to how you store other liquors like vodka or rum. It requires a cool, dry, dark place, away from heat or lights. Your pantry, cellar, cupboard, or liquor cabinet is a popular option.

For long term storage, keep unopened bottles in an upright position. Always seal the bottle tightly after serving. Although the chance is tiny, if you find old whiskey that smells, tastes, or looks off, better discard it.

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