If you are a whiskey connoisseur you will probably have several whiskey bottles stored in your drinks cabinet. Its shelf life, however, will depend on whether you have opened the bottle or not.
How To Store Unopened Whiskey
Whiskey should always be stored in an upright position, however unlike wine, whiskey that is stored in an unopened bottle will neither improve nor deteriorate during the time that it is in storage. It can only mature in the cask through contact with the oak wood. Whiskey bottles must be stored in an upright position as the cork is not such a tight fit as that in a wine bottle. This is because a whiskey cork has been designed to be used many times, whereas a wine cork is disposable.
Whiskey should never be stored in direct sunlight as the sun’s ultraviolet rays can bleach the colour pigments in the liquid over time. Whiskey can be protected from the light by packing or a bar cabinet, and in this way, whiskey can easily be stored for ten years or more. The level in the bottle will however decrease with time as small amounts of liquid will evaporate via the cork. The liquid level in the bottle can be monitored by marking the neck of the bottle using a felt tip pen.
Collectors who want to store their whiskey over a long time period will need to put extra thought into their storage. The temperature in the storage area must be lower than standard room temperature as this will cause less whiskey to evaporate. Putting an extra cap onto the cork will also help however it is important to ensure that the cap does not damage or soil the whiskey’s original sleeve as the bottle’s value. Using sealing wax will also reduce the value of the bottle.
If a bottle has a screw top, it must be tightened regularly manually as this type of lid will loosen by itself, leading to more evaporation.
If you are storing bottles in your basement, it is important to protect them from humidity as labels can begin to go mouldy in a damp basement. Packing the whiskey in thin plastic bags will keep them airtight, however you need to make certain that the bag contains no chemicals or plasticisers as these could bleach the label and even affect the contents of the bottle via the cork.
How Does Open Whiskey Change Its Taste?
Once a bottle of whiskey has been opened, it behaves in a different way and has a changed taste. This process of change takes a longer period of time than with wine however. Whereas wine can go bad within a few days, an open bottle of whiskey still has a shelf life of between 6 months and 2 years. So what takes place in that time?
Firstly, the alcohol in the whiskey will evaporate, leaving a smoother taste. Then the active gases inside the air in the bottle will react slowly with the whiskey’s flavour. There is no way of predicting how the taste will change – on some occasions it will taste better, but on others it will taste worse.
In order to prevent changes from taking place, you can reduce the whiskey’s air content by pouring it into a smaller sized bottle, however avoid using a decanter as no high quality decanter has been found that will keep the drink airtight over an extended period. It would require a ground glass joint or a plastic seal.
You should avoid opening too many bottles of whiskey at the same time, and try to drink all of the open bottles within as short a space of time as possible.
How To Keep Your Whiskey Safe
There are several things that you should avoid in order to keep your whiskey safe. These include:
Light – exposure to the light is bad for any type of spirit and that is one of the reasons why beers are often bottled in either a green or brown bottle. Therefore, keeping your whiskey out of the light in a dark room, cabinet or cupboard is the best idea. Direct sunlight contains ultraviolet rays which destroy the tannins in the whiskey so it should certainly been avoided.
Temperature – although a short period of high temperature will not have a severe impact on whiskey, ideally bottles should be kept in cool temperatures from 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit (7-18 degrees Celsius) to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius).
Air – the oxygen in the air is the biggest problem for your whiskey, so storing bottles in an upright position is best. The cork of the bottle can dry out and for this reason, wine should always be stored on its side, however whiskey has a higher alcohol content and therefore it may start to eat at the cork. The cork may also give the whiskey an unpleasant flavour while allowing more air into the bottle. Whiskey becomes oxidised by the oxygen in the air and this will impact the liquid’s flavor. Therefore, if there is less than half a bottle remaining, it should be finished within one or two years, and for a quarter bottle or less, it should be finished within three to four months. Alternatively you could use a wine preserver such as Private Preserve. A wine preserver is essentially a mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and argon – compressed air that has no oxygen in it. However it may be better to simply finish the bottle to ensure you enjoy it at its best.