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Does Bourbon Go Bad? Check How Long It Lasts (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on July 25, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Have you ever stumbled upon a dust-covered but unopened bottle of bourbon in your basement? 

You might not care if something’s cheap, but a limited-edition bottle will surely make you wonder, does bourbon go bad? Read on as we answer that in great detail with additional tips on proper storage.

Does Bourbon Really Expire?

Bourbon Brands on desk

Yes, bourbon expires once you open the bottle. The shelf life of bourbon and all of its premium qualities can only last for two to eight months unless stored correctly and away from any light source.

However, a properly stored and sealed bottle of bourbon lasts for many decades and is perfectly fine to drink. It has a high alcohol content that prevents the growth of any bacteria, leaving it safe to drink even after a long time. 

How To Tell If Bourbon Has Gone Bad

How To Tell If Bourbon Has Gone Bad

Dull Taste

Bourbon has a distinct sweetness due to the high percentage of corn on its mash bill. It also has a biting kick towards the finish that is not present once the bourbon has gone bad. 

Storing bourbon under certain conditions will change its flavor, eventually resulting in a duller taste. Although you can still taste all the vanilla, oak, and caramel notes, it seemed more like a watered-down version in the background without the spice. 

Color Fades

Color Fades

As a type of whiskey, bourbon adapts its flavor and color from the barrel. The longer its aging process, the darker the liquid gets, ranging from medium amber to brown.

If you have an opened bottle of bourbon stored somewhere in your liquor cabinet for more than five years, chances are, it already has a cloudy appearance. The color change is more evident in dark bourbons than in lighter colored ones.

Molds Form

A bourbon that has gone bad is not dangerous to consume. If left in proper storage, bourbon is unlikely to form molds. But in rare cases that it appears, throw the bourbon right away. 

If you store bourbon half-empty or with a minimal amount of liquor left in the bottle, the alcohol content will evaporate faster than the water. Although mold will not form right away, a contaminated cork will quicken the process.

How Long Does It Usually Last?

Opened

Opened

A bourbon’s shelf life is six months to two years if you have an opened bottle of this liquor stored properly. Opening the bottle introduces fresh air to the bourbon whiskey, leading it to go bad and lose its unique flavor profile [1]

It does not happen right away. You can still store the open bottles for the next two months and not worry about the taste or smell changing. But after a year, the bourbon whiskey will start losing its primary characteristics. 

Unopened

An unopened bourbon bottle stored upright in a place with cool temperature and away from light sources has an indefinite shelf life. It could last your whole life, and it will still have the same taste and smell as the day it was first bottled.

However, a dry cork has a higher chance of breaking when you finally open the bottle. You can wet the cork once or twice a year. 

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Things That Make Bourbons Go Bad

Things That Make Bourbons Go Bad

Evaporation

The alcohol evaporates faster if exposed to direct light resources, leaving behind the water content of bourbon. Experts recommend storing liquor in a cool and dark place before and after opening the bottle. It helps the alcohol evaporate slowly, maintaining all the important tasting profiles of bourbon. 

Presence of Oxygen

Presence of Oxygen

An open bottle of bourbon does not only cause the evaporation process; it also invites the presence of oxygen.

Master distillers carefully crafted spirits like bourbon to achieve their full potential through meticulous experimenting. The entry of more oxygen can make the bourbon go bad because it disturbs the active chemicals present in the spirit.

Oxidation

But, how long does a bourbon last once the oxidation process occurs? It depends on the liquid left in the bottle. If only one-third of the liquid is left, it only takes two months to maintain its original flavors.  

It is better to transfer the bourbon into a new bottle to minimize the oxygen and lengthen its flavorful qualities for up to one year. 

What Happens When You Drink Old Bourbons

Old Bourbon Brands on desk

Nothing dangerous happens when you drink an old bourbon. Aside from the unpleasant tasting notes, an old liquor is generally safe to consume even after opening and storing it for a few years. 

Unlike wine, bourbon’s aging process occurs only inside new charred oak barrels and not in a glass bottle. This popular myth made many people store their unopened bottles of bourbon for a long time. 

However, a 12-year-old bourbon will remain the same 12-year-old bourbon even after a few years. An old bourbon will not make you sick, but you still have to drink responsibly and not overindulge in alcohol consumption. Learn how to drink bourbon as a beginner here.

Tips In Storing Bourbons To Prevent Possible Spoilage

Tips In Storing Bourbons To Prevent Possible Spoilage

Keep It In An Upright Position

We often see the horizontally stored unopened bottles inside a wine cellar, but it is a different story with a bottle of bourbon. Hard liquors like bourbon have a high alcohol percentage that the cork may not be able to withstand in constant contact [2]

Keeping the unopened bourbon upright is important, leading to the indefinite shelf life of the spirit. 

Keep It Away From Direct Sunlight

Keep It Away From Direct Sunlight

Barrel-aging imparts organic compounds to bourbon, giving it unique flavors depending on the brand. But constant exposure to direct sunlight will release these chemicals and other radicals from the spirit, taking away its vibrant color and delectable taste.

Storing bourbon in a dark place or inside a liquor cabinet will help preserve the unique tasting notes that master distillers carefully crafted for this spirit. 

Store Opened Bourbons In Smaller Bottles

After opening the glass bottle, you might wonder how long bourbon lasts. The oxidation process depends on the amount of bourbon left inside the glass bottle. A half-full bottle of bourbon contains more air, exposing the spirit to chemical changes that affect its flavor. 

It became a common practice among enthusiasts to store bourbon in a smaller bottle, lowering its exposure to air. 

Why It’s Bad To Refrigerate Bourbon

Why It's Bad To Refrigerate Bourbon

It is bad to refrigerate a bottle of bourbon because the cold temperature alters some of the background flavors of the spirit. Bourbon is at its prime if served at room temperature. 

Although its high alcohol content prevents the liquid from solidifying, the sudden temperature fluctuations affect the volatiles of the spirit. But if you are at a humid location, then we highly recommend storing bourbon at a cool place with air conditioning for quality purposes. 

Bourbon is not a big fan of temperature changes, and it always pays well to follow the proper food storage guidelines. 

Read: Is Drinking Bourbon Good For You?

Is It Okay To Store It In A Decanter?

Yes, it is okay to store bourbon in a decanter after opening the bottle. But how long does bourbon last in a decanter? The ideal length of storing bourbon in a decanter is a few months. 

Although there are different varieties of a decanter, it slightly has a less airtight seal than the original bottle. This condition shortens a bourbon’s shelf life and loses its flavor. However, it is good to store the liquor in a decanter if you plan to consume it immediately for the next month or two.

FAQs

Can old bourbon make you sick?

No, a glass of old bourbon will not make you sick. As mentioned earlier, it only gives you a watered-down version of the spirit’s flavors. 

What does ice do to bourbon?

Ice dilutes the bourbon if left for too long to melt. Depending on personal preference, some people chill their drink with whiskey stones to avoid diluting the spirit. Here’s the best way to order bourbon

So, Does Bourbon Go Bad?

Yes, bourbon can go bad if not stored properly. Since not everyone can drink bourbon in one sitting, it is important to know the right way to store the spirit.  

You can transfer the bourbon to a small bottle and put it upright inside a cool and dark place. Most hard liquors contain high alcohol content that rarely grows dangerous bacteria. Although it’s rare, you can do a quick taste test or smell the bourbon before taking it.

References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-alcohol-expire#bottom-line
  2. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/food-news/does-alcohol-go-bad-how-long-can-opened-bottles-be-stored-and-how-to-make-them-long-last/photostory/88585596.cms

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