Does Bourbon Age in the Bottle? All You Need to Know (2023)
Last Updated on December 29, 2022 by Lydia Martin
They say age does not matter, but we say it matters if it is a bourbon (no pun intended). Bourbon is a well-loved American native spirit that has an aging requirement before bottling, but does bourbon age in the bottle?
If you are a curious cat, find out by reading this article.
Will Bourbon Age In The Bottle?
No, bourbon will not age in the bottle. Unlike wine, the aging process of aged whiskey will stop after it is bottled.
To be considered a straight bourbon, it is required that the distilled spirit is aged for a minimum of two years in a new charred barrel .
After aging comes bottling, and in that production process, the aging stops.
If you keep the whiskey bottle storage in good condition, the whiskey will taste the same as when placed in the bottle. However, you can lose some of its flavors over time through evaporation, especially if you open it.
Bourbons are made for drinking. If you have an opened bottle of straight bourbon on your liquor shelves, drink it up, and don’t waste its great tasting flavor.
Bourbon’s Aging Process
After distillation, straight bourbon must be aged in new oak barrels under 62.5% ABV (125 proof) for at least two years. Every single barrel is important, like corn for bourbons, because it has to be a new and charred barrel.
The smoky flavor comes from the charred barrel. It adds sweetness with toffee and vanilla notes to the whiskey because, during the charring, the sugars in the wood caramelize.
The bourbon barrels are then stored in a warehouse for aging, and most distilleries have racks for the charred barrel. Barrels inside the warehouse do not taste the same because the temperature affects the oak casks during the aging process.
A cooler climate slows the aging process of whiskey in barrels, while a hotter climate makes bourbon age and evaporates (angel’s share) in barrels quickly.
How Long Is It Aged Before Bottling?
Straight bourbons should be aged for a minimum of two years, but older whiskeys tend to be more rich and complex. However, older whiskeys or those matured in oak casks for more than 15 years tend to be bitter and ashy.
Since Congress declared bourbon as an American Native Spirit, the production process of the whiskey is strictly regulated by federal standards.
The aging process of the bourbon calms the harshness of the spirit and gives distinct flavor, but the aging process stops once the whiskey is stored in a bottle.
Does It Expire In The Bottle?
No, bourbon does not expire in the bottle, but it can go bad once you open it. If properly sealed and stored, the whiskey can last for several years and still be perfectly fine to drink.
Bourbon has a high ABV that prevents the growth of bacteria that may affect the spirit. If left unopened, bourbons have an unlimited shelf life, especially when properly stored.
If you have a special bottle of bourbon on your shelf, it will not expire, especially if unopened.
How Long Does It Last In The Bottle?
An opened bourbon has six months to two years shelf life when stored properly. When you open the bottle, oxidation will occur, which will affect the unique flavor profile of the bourbon whiskey. However, it doesn’t happen immediately.
For several years, even open bottles of bourbon can be drinkable as long as it is stored in a proper place.
But expect that the few ounces of bourbon will lose their primary characteristics due to oxidation.
An unopened, sealed bourbon stored upright in a dark place and at a cool temperature has an indefinite shelf life. It can last for decades and still have the same smell and taste as when it was first bottled.
However, the cork can dry out and break once you decide to open it, so make sure to wet the cork once or twice a year.
Does It Get Better With Age?
Bourbons get better with age because a six-year-old bourbon from the barrel is certainly more delicious than a newly made bourbon.
However, over-maturation of bourbon in the barrel can affect the whiskey’s flavors.
Bourbon aged for six to fifteen years in a barrel tastes great, but an older whiskey may not be because the flavor of the wood will overpower the grain.
How Long Can You Keep It In A Bottle?
You can keep bourbon in a bottle as long as you prefer because sealed ones do not expire. In fact, you will not worry if your bourbon is too old to be consumed because the aging process stops once it is out of the barrels and stored in a bottle.
However, you have to take note of a few reasons why distilled spirits in a bottle go bad even if it is unopened: (1) it is stored in direct sunlight, and (2) the air sips in the cork, causing oxidation.
Read: Costco Bourbon Selection Reviewed
Does Bourbon Age In A Glass Bottle?
No, bourbon does not age in a glass bottle. Many distilleries use glass bottles as packaging for the spirits, and it does not contribute to the aging of the alcohol.
A 15-year-old whiskey would remain a 15-year-old whiskey even if you left it on your counter for a decade.
Even an open bottle of whiskey in a glass bottle will not mature, but it will give a slight drop in quality over time due to oxidation.
What’s An Age Statement?
Distillers use an age statement to label their whiskey with the youngest bourbon used for the blend (youngest whiskey age). Bourbons aged under four years inside barrels must be labeled with an age statement.
However, the spirits don’t need to be labeled with an age statement if it is matured in barrels longer than four years.
Some distilleries label their bottle with an age statement as a marketing strategy. Most whiskey drinkers’ definition of higher quality bourbon is longer maturity.
For them, the rarity of older whiskeys makes sense for its high price point, but age cannot be the only factor.
Does Bourbon Need To Be Aged?
Yes, bourbon needs to be aged. Based on the federal standards, straight bourbons must be aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels before bottling.
If the distilled beverage is not aged for at least two years in a new charred oak cask, it cannot be labeled a straight bourbon.
In addition, it is illegal to label a distilled spirit a bourbon if it does not meet the criteria of being one. While distillation helps increase the alcohol content, maturation in a new charred cask contributes to the flavor and identity of the alcohol.
How long does bourbon have to be aged to be called straight bourbon?
Bourbon should be aged for two years to be legally called a straight bourbon. Since bourbon is a native American spirit, the whiskey-making process is strictly regulated to ensure its quality.
How long is too long to age bourbon?
Twenty-five years is too long to age bourbon. At twenty-five, the flavor complexity of the bourbon can change to a bitter taste because of over aging.
At fifteen years inside a cask, bourbon’s flavor changes, so imagine what another ten years can do to the bourbon flavors.
Bourbon does not age in the bottle because the aging stops once it is transferred from barrel to bottle.
Once the bourbon is bottled and placed on your liquor shelf, it will not change unless stored in unfavorable conditions.
Air and light are the enemies of bourbon, so to keep it in good condition, make sure to store it in a cool and dark storage area. Moreso, bourbons are made for drinking, so finish the bottle. Cheers!
Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here.
2 thoughts on “Does Bourbon Age in the Bottle? All You Need to Know (2023)”
Thank you for your comments on Kirkland small batch bourbons.
Question: How do I find out what Costco near me will be carrying the small batch bourbins? I’ve heard about these bourbons before when I call my local Costco they cannot tell me when and if they will have the small batch bourbons in stock.
I live in SW Florida.
I have enjoyed many spirits sold by Costco particularly particularly the small batch Is bourbon in aged 7 year and the Single Malt scotch age 23.
The only way I’ve ever had luck was calling beforehand. But that was in the North-West. I’m not sure about Florida. Sorry!