How Long Do Spirits Last After Opening?


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Receiving an expensive bottle of spirit as a gift can typically result in an enthusiastic glass or two, then banished to the back of a cupboard, forgotten. After a year, you convince yourself this opened spirit has been standing neglected for too long and is undrinkable.

This got me wondering; how long do spirits last after opening? Armed with a rather battered old Macbook and Google, I decided to investigate. My findings will ensure you never need to pour a 1/2 used bottle of dodgy-looking spirit down the sink ever again.

How Long Spirits Last Once Opened

The good news is that certain spirits with an alcohol content greater than 40% can last for years. Liqueurs, cream liqueurs and fortified wines may not last forever but longer than I realised.

Clear Spirits

Clear Spirits

Clear spirits such as gin, vodka, tequila, mezcal and white rum, with at least 40% ABV, don’t really go ‘bad’ and can last 10 years or more even when opened. Most barmen I asked recommended consuming these spirits within 24 months from opening for optimal taste.

Leaving your spirit in an open container is a no-no as it may allow some of the alcohol to evaporate. So ensure your the lid of your opened spirit is firmly tightened. Also, store in a cool, dry place and not in direct sunlight.

Flavoured Spirits

Flavoured Spirits

Flavoured spirits such as citrus flavoured vodka should be consumed within 2 years of purchase (before opening). Once opened, you should replace the cap tightly, store it in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight and consume it within 6 months. (source: Absolut)

Dark Spirits

Dark Spirits

Dark spirits such as brandy, whisky, and rum with at least 40% ABV will deteriorate quicker than their clear counterparts. Whisky, for example, should be consumed within 6-24 months from opening to preserve its flavour. (source: Whisky.com)

The oxidation process begins from the moment you open your bottle of spirit. If you store your spirits in direct sunlight, this process will be quicker and dark liquors like rum and brandy might lose some colour.

Whisky, for instance, will expire quicker if the bottle is half full; the reason for this is the ratio of oxygen vs whisky contained in the bottle (which causes oxidation). Rum, on the other hand, may not last as long as whisky before it loses some flavour once opened, so it should be consumed sooner.

Liqueurs

Liqueurs

Popular liqueurs like Kahlua, Amaretto, Frangelico will lose some taste as time progresses. Although it’s better to consume these types of liqueurs within 6-12 months of opening, they can last up to 4 years once opened. (source: Kahlua.com)

Liqueurs contain alcohol, but unlike whisky, gin, and vodka, most liqueurs do not go through an entire distilling process. Coffee liqueur, for example, must be stored in a cool, dry place once opened. If the coffee liqueur develops an odd smell or taste, better to get rid of it.

As with most spirits, liqueurs will lose flavour and colour the longer you leave them. It is strongly advised to investigate a bottle of old liqueur before consuming it. It is worth mentioning that liqueurs that contain cream (discussed next) will not last as long as those that don’t. Fruit liqueurs tend to last a little longer.

Cream Liqueurs

Cream Liqueurs

This is the type of liqueur you want to watch out for. We all know the awful taste of sour milk. Although it’s better to consume Cream Liqueurs within six months of opening, most will last up to 24 months once opened. (source: Baileys)

It is not essential to store your opened cream liqueur in the fridge; most brands recommend a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight where the temperature is between (0 to 25°C/32 to 77°F). Keeping the lid on your cream liqueur tightly closed is strongly advised.

Something interesting to remember is that fruit-based cream liqueurs spoil faster than normal cream liqueurs. Each brand of cream liqueur will differ, so remember to always check the bottle or manufacturer’s website. Like hard liqueur, oxygen is the enemy and will cause cream liqueurs to change colour, texture, and taste.

Fortified Wines

Fortified Wines

Unlike all the other liqueur and spirits, fortified wines such as port will only last about 4 weeks once opened (source: Sandman). This is because the distilled alcohol added to the wine halts the fermentation process. 

You can still consume opened fortified wines months after opening, but there will be a definite reduction in quality and taste. The next time you receive an expensive bottle of port or muscat, keep it closed until you have enough people together to finish the entire bottle.

7 Tips Make Spirts Last Longer

7 Tips Make Spirts Last Longer

Storing spirits at home is not rocket science. Follow these simple tips, and you can enjoy your favourite drink anytime you need.

1. Keep It Cool

For best performance, most spirits should be stored between 0 to 25°C/32 to 77°F; even colder is fine. Stay away from warm places as this will cause your spirits to oxidise quicker, and the flavours may change over time.

2. Keep Away From Direct Sunlight 

You should store your spirits in the empty kitchen cupboard and not in your open bar if it is bathed in sunlight. Direct sunlight will speed up the oxidation process, and darker spirits can change colour and flavour in only 15 days.

3. Check The Lid

Always ensure that the lid of the bottle is screwed on tightly or the cork (if used) is fully inserted and is not loose. That way, no extra air gets to the spirit to cause further unnecessary oxidation.

4. Decanting Spirit

Once you open your bottle, the oxidation process starts immediately. Dark spirits such as port, brandy and whisky will deteriorate quicker depending on how much air vs spirit is in the bottle. It will be better to store it in a smaller container because the more oxygen is in the bottle, the quicker oxidation will happen.

5. Freeze? Yes Or No 

You can always find Jägermeister in my freezer, not because it preserves it longer, but because I find warm Jager disgusting. The same goes for all spirits; it won’t make it last longer, but some intensely flavoured liquor is better served cold. 

6. Purchase A Smaller Bottle

If there is a spirit that you know you will not drink within the timescales we have recommended, considering purchasing a smaller bottle version or a miniature if one is available is an excellent idea. I have lots of miniatures in my drinks collection and it’s a great way to try different drinks without needing to open a full bottle.

7. Cooking

Ingrid always adds a splash of port, brandy, whisky and sometimes aged tequila into her cooking. We find this a great way to use up the remainder of our spirits and also enjoy the extra flavour and depth it adds to our meals.

Handy Summary

Spirit TypeConsume Within
Clear Spirits24 months
Flavoured Spirits6 months
Dark Spirits6-24 months
Liqueurs12 months
Cream Liqueurs6-24 months
Fortified Wines4 weeks

Conclusion

You now know that the next time you receive an expensive bottle of spirit for your birthday, and you find you have half a bottle left, all is not lost. You will get the best from your tipple if you store your spirit in a cool, dry place with the lid firmly tightened and out of direct sunlight.

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