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Does Alcohol Go Bad?

Many people who enjoy spirits and other alcoholic beverages at home may have their own wine rack, home bar, or beer cave, leading them to wonder about the best practices for storing alcohol.

Scotch whisky and bourbon bottles on a counter

It is common to keep alcoholic beverages for a long time, so naturally, they must have long shelf lives. However, you might be wondering, does alcohol expire? 

If you encounter expired alcohol, which is very rare, you will know by the taste and sometimes by the coloring. However, you only have to worry about the expiration date with beer or opened bottles of wine or spirits; unopened bottles of spirits, wine, or liquor do not go bad.


Does Liquor Expire? 

The short answer is that liquor with an alcohol content of 40% does not have an expiration date. So vodka, rum, tequila, and gin can stay on your shelves for as long as you need them to. Whiskeys and bourbons don’t have expiration dates either.

Bottle of whisky

However, cream liqueurs do have limited shelf lives because there are perishable ingredients in them, and the alcohol content only ranges between 17% and 27%.

Only let them take up space on your shelves for up to a year.


Why Does Alcohol Go Bad?

Beer tends to go bad faster than any other alcohol because craft beers are often unpasteurized, which can lead to bacterial growth and flavor changes.

Multitude of pure alcohol bottles not labeled

Mass-produced beer can go bad if exposed to high temperatures or direct light for too long. Wine can also turn sour if left in these conditions, just like beer, although if stored properly, it can have a long shelf life.

Alcohol goes bad because of improper storage or not consuming it in time, depending on the processes used to make certain drinks.


Alcohol Shelf Life

Let’s discuss the different storage guidelines for different types of alcohol so that you can avoid expired alcohol, keep your bottles more shelf stable, and enjoy the best flavor possible.

Bottles of alcoholic beverages on the shelves

Brandy

Because brandy is a spirit with a high alcohol content (35%-40%), it’s a spirit that has an indefinite shelf life. However, once you open a bottle of brandy the alcohol content and flavor profile may change over time.

 Wide angle detail of multiple bottles of Brandy

Oxidation occurs each time the bottle is open, and it exposes the brandy to oxygen, which decreases the alcohol content. Evaporation can also occur if you keep the brandy somewhere too warm.

This will affect your brandy drinking experience over time. Store brandy in a cool place (room temperature is fine), and keep it tightly sealed. It’s best to finish a bottle of brandy within a few years.


Bourbon

If bourbon remains unopened, it will retain the same flavor qualities and alcohol content it had when it was first bottled and sealed.

Bulleit Bourbon bottle

The best way to store bourbon is in a cool dark place, and some even like to keep it in the fridge, which is okay.

Once you open a bottle of bourbon, that’s when atmospheric variables can affect the taste and the strength of the beverage.

That said, bourbon has an incredibly long shelf life, but if you want to enjoy your bourbon at peak strength and flavor, it’s best to enjoy the bottle within a year to two.


Tequila

An unopened bottle of tequila has an indefinite shelf life as the alcohol content is so high (40%-50%). As long as it’s kept in a cool, dark place upright and out of direct light, an unopened bottle of tequila can remain unchanged for years.

bottles of Tequila

Once opened, tequila can slowly lose its alcohol content and flavor through evaporation and oxidation, so it’s best to enjoy an open bottle of tequila within six to eight months for peak enjoyment.


Rum

Rum is much the same as other liquors like whiskey, tequila, and vodka when it comes to peak enjoyment and how to properly store the liquor.

a bottle of rum

Rum needs to be stored upright like other liquors so that the liquid stays away from the cap—this is because the alcohol can corrode the cap and that can seep into the liquid, affecting the taste.

An opened bottle of rum should be enjoyed within six months. You can even place it in a small bottle as you consume more of it to ensure that the rum isn’t sealed inside a larger bottle with a lot of oxygen.


Whiskey

Whiskey famously lasts forever on the shelf, unopened, that is. Many people place their liquor (gin, whiskey, tequila, rum, etc.) in the freezer, as it doesn’t affect the taste. It is a cool, dark place, after all.

whiskey in transparent bottle

Although whiskey has an indefinite shelf life, the oxidation process will begin as soon as you open the bottle. To best enjoy your whiskey, you should consume your bottle within a year or up to two years.


Gin

Along with the other liquors on this list, store gin upright to prevent the cap from corroding and affecting the flavor.

gin bottles stored upright

Gin should be kept cool and dark, even a freezer would do the trick, although this is up to personal preference of how the alcohol should be served.

After you open a bottle of gin, to enjoy it at its best, consume it within two years.


Vodka

Like our other distilled spirits mentioned here, vodka is a champion of the shelf. An unopened bottle of vodka can grace a shelf or pantry forever if you let it, but it’s best to enjoy this clear spirit either at room temperature, chilled from the freezer, or in a cocktail.

vodka bottles stored upright

Vodka should be stored upright and can be kept in the freezer if chilled vodka is your preference. For the strongest alcohol content and the best flavor, consume vodka within two years of opening.


Wine

Fine wines tend to ripen and become more delicious over time; after all, it does seem that there is truth to some things that cost more are expensive for a reason.

Bottles of different fine wines

After opening a fine wine, continue to store it in a cool, dark place, away from sunlight. Light can break down the chemical processes that made it delicious in the first place.

In contrast, cheap wine needs to be consumed within two years of the bottle date. Organic wines only last a few months to half a year after bottling because they lack preservatives.

Most wines need to be enjoyed within a week of being opened. Unlike spirits and liquor, wine bottles should be stored horizontally. Don’t worry about dusty bottles; this does not affect the wine, unlike light and warmth.


Beer

Beer should be consumed within a year after purchase, which means about half a year to eight months past its sell-by date. Beer keeps even longer if stored in the refrigerator.

Glass bottles of beer

Beer has a shorter shelf life than any other beverage on this list, and it should be consumed once opened (bottle or can).

Craft beer has a shelf life that is even shorter than mass-produced big-batch beers, so drink craft beers no later than three months after they were bottled so that the flavor is still preserved and you can enjoy a carbonated beverage rather than a flat beer.


Liqueur

Because liqueurs contain perishable ingredients like added sugars, cream, or fruits and herbs, these do not have a long shelf life compared to hard liquors.

Bottles of liqueur on a wooden shelf

It is best to store your cream liqueurs upright in the refrigerator after opening, and they should be consumed within six months of opening. Liqueurs without cream don’t need to be refrigerated, but it does help in extending shelf life.


Cordials

 set of homemade alcohol cordial drink in bottles

Cordials are much the same as fruit and cream liqueurs in terms of shelf life and storage. Because these beverages do not have a high alcohol content and they have a high sugar content, it’s best to consume them within a year and a half of opening.


FAQs

Here is some more useful information to clarify a few things.

How To Know If a Bottle Goes Bad?

Beer is expired if there is no carbonation when you pour it, hence no head of foam at the top. Flat beer also tastes terrible—it can have little to no flavor or a sour taste.

If a bottle of wine has gone bad, the taste will be off, and it can taste sour. It can also appear cloudy where it was clear before.


What Happens if You Drink Expired Alcohol?

Not much will happen to you other than a possible upset stomach. The worst thing about expired alcohol is the taste—you will know that when you take that first sip, your favorite drink has changed into something else.


How To Store Spirits?

When storing spirits, place them in a cool, dark place like a support or a liquor cabinet. This will ensure that the flavor and power of the liquor stays the same as the day it was bottled, even if the bottles remain unopened for a decade.

Store liquor upright, and after opening, you can also store the bottles in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life, mostly to preserve certain flavor qualities.


Final Thoughts

So, does alcohol expire? That depends entirely on the use by date, type of alcohol, and storage conditions. However, hard liquor and spirits are almost guaranteed to last for as long as it takes to drink them.

Beer can be delicate, especially small-batch beers, and wine needs certain conditions met for proper storage.

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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