Does Whiskey Go Bad? The Answer May Shock You…

by Libation Staff | Last Updated: May 29, 2021

Maybe you have a booze cabinet that’s chock full of various types of alcohol. Or, maybe you’ve found an open bottle of whiskey in the back of the pantry that might have seen a few presidents in office or the 80s Olympics–it’s that old. Either way, you may begin to ask yourself, “Does whiskey ever go bad?” or “Can I still drink this old bottle of whiskey?” If you’re pondering these things, then you’re in the right place!

Contrary to popular belief, hard liquors don’t stay good forever. But, just how long you have to drink that liquid gold depends on whether the bottle is opened or still sealed. If you’re curious as to how long you have to drink whiskey before it is non-consumable, you’re not alone.

This article will not only break down the shelf life of whiskey, but also the best way to store it, and the signs that it has gone bad. Before you take that next drink from that open bottle of Blanton’s, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Fireball, or Jack Daniels, read this article to ensure you’re not drinking bad whiskey.

If I had to make a judgment call, I’d saying knowing this information is just as if not more important as knowing the terms that whiskey connoisseurs use or that bourbon slang that gets thrown around casually at a speakeasy.

Glass of Whiskey
Photographer Credit: Thomas Park

How to Store Whiskey

Before we go any further, we’re spelling whiskey with an “e” to keep things simple. Yes, we know that certain whiskey varieties from other countries, such as those from Japan, Scotland, and Canada, won’t use the “e,” but for the purposes of this article, assume that whiskey with an “e” encompasses all the varieties out there. 

Let’s get back to storage… 

When you store your whiskey, you want to store it like any other liquor that is shelf-stable. It can be kept at room temperature and the bottle upright–corks on whiskey are not as tight as a wine bottle because whiskey makers assume you will be opening and closing the bottle repeatedly.

This doesn’t mean you should just shove it into any old place in your home, however. 

When storing whiskey, follow these additional tips:

If you follow these pretty easy tips, your whiskey is sure to last you a much longer time.

How to Tell if Whiskey Has Gone Bad

Whiskey has a long shelf life. If you follow good storage practices, your whiskey will be kept at optimal and delicious flavor. This is due to the high alcohol content in whiskey.

Once you have opened your bottle of whiskey, it will begin behaving differently than a sealed, unopened bottle. This essentially means that once that bottle is opened, changes begin happening that will affect the taste. In the beginning, your whiskey will get smoother as the alcohol evaporates.

But, once that bottle becomes approximately half-full, you’re probably going to notice that the taste isn’t what you would expect. This is why I recommend that you put your whiskey into a smaller bottle when there is less than half of the liquor remaining and consuming it within 3-6 months. 

If you’re not sure when you opened your whiskey bottle, you should first do a sniff test before taking a swig. Take a whiff, and if it smells strange or “off”, you should strongly consider throwing it out and getting yourself a new bottle. 

If the whiskey doesn’t smell odd, you can take a small sip to judge how it tastes. Then, if it tastes ok to your palate, awesome, it’s drinkable. However, if you notice that the flavor is strange–maybe metallic or sour–it should really be discarded.

A quick note: It likely won’t bring you any harm to drink a whiskey that has gone bad, but why chance it? Yes, the high alcohol content essentially assures that no microbes will survive in your opened whiskey bottle, so food poisoning is highly rare, but you never know. 

How Long Will Whiskey Last?

Liquors have a long shelf-life because they are so high in alcohol. An unopened bottle of whiskey will keep indefinitely as long as it keeps its original seal. 

This doesn’t mean that keeping it unopened is going to improve the taste. Whiskey has been aged for a few years in wooden casks, but once it is bottled, the aging process is done. So drink that whiskey!

An opened bottle of whiskey will have a shelf-life of between six months and two years. After that time, “flavor drift” has already begun and that smooth, delicious whiskey that you covet will take on an earthiness, graphite, or textile-y flavor which can be off-putting. 

How long your whiskey will last really depends on how you’ve been storing it, so follow my above tips to ensure it doesn’t go gross on you.

Final Thoughts

Whiskey exists for consumers, therefore, it’s for you to drink, not save. Hoarding it only increases the chances of a bad tasting product. Whiskey distillers put a lot of hard work into making sure that their products taste good and the act of you keeping it for strictly “special occasions” will allow oxidation and flavor drift to occur. This means you’re self-sabotaging your experience if you’re holding on for a special time–just drink it! 

No, it won’t cause the same sort of spoilage that fresh food goes through, but it can certainly experience flavor loss. Not only is this disappointing, it can put a hurting on your wallet.

If you store your whiskey like you would any other liquor–upright in a cool, dark, dry place away from lights and heat–preferably in a liquor cabinet, food pantry, or cupboard, you will be able to keep enjoying that delicious adult beverage. 

If your whiskey appears, smells, or tastes somewhat differently than you remembered it when you first opened the bottle, it’s time to consider that your whiskey has gone bad, and you should discard it. Yes, I know those words hurt, but that’s the truth. Toss that bottle now!