“Everything is better with age.” We probably all hear this from time to time. Although it is not always accurate, that claim remains true with alcohol. After bottling, as long as the bottle isn’t opened, most liquor ingredients will continue to mature, ferment, further saturate, etc.
So does that mean alcohol doesn’t expire?
It’s true the statement above contradicts our basic knowledge of alcohol. To answer this question accurately, I would say, yes and no. Alcohol is more likely to spoil when you leave it uncorked, or stored it at high temperatures. After the initial seal is broken, it’s best to drink the liquor as soon as possible.
However, if you don’t open a bottle of alcohol, it will last forever.
Unfortunately, this is an everyday occurrence in bars and nightclubs around the country. Drinks are sold in shot glasses and used to prepare cocktails.
Take the average dirty martini for example. Typically “dirtier” martinis contain slightly staler alcohol that has been uncorked for a while.
Some bartenders will cover the bottle with a detachable nozzle, rather than using the original cork for closing the bottle. This lackadaisical attitude isn’t usually a big deal because a bar may run through a bottle of opened vodka rather quickly. However, this can be detrimental to the consumer’s health and overall tasting experience.
Our vodka, for example, is sweetened with cassava root but has an incredibly long shelf life compared with most liquors.
It will keep for a long time when left unopened.
This doesn’t mean all vodkas are insusceptible to expiration. And there are factors that can make alcohol expire faster as well.
Exposure to sunlight, high temperatures, and contamination all play a factor in liquor longevity. In the subsequent paragraphs, let’s discuss a few of these factors:
Exposure to Sunlight:
While the effect of sunlight on alcohol is minuscule, we can’t totally disregard the possibility of this reducing the shelf life of the alcohol. Technically, transparent glasses let more light into the alcohol. If we compare them with colored bottles like green or brown bottles, the aging process is slower.
Glass and aluminum are also less likely to spoil the alcohol than say, plastic. But manufacturers won’t store alcohol in plastic in most 1st world countries. And since most chemical reactions are somewhat sunlight dependent, sunlight can also make certain compounds in the recipe become interactive with plastic bottles.
This leads to further alcohol degradation and is not recommended.
Thus, it is advisable to store your alcohol bottles – especially the transparent ones – in dark places.
Exposure to Oxygen:
I often notice people storing their alcohol bottles horizontally. For an alcohol like vodka with such high concentration by volume, and a corrosive tendency, the perpetual storing of the bottle horizontally could cause more alcohol getting into the cork.
As the alcohol begins eating away at the cork, it will become easier for oxygen to get into the bottle and bits of the cork to corrode in the alcohol inducing a chemical reaction. This will end up reducing the quality of the alcohol over time, and changing the flavor a bit. If you uncork your bottle, this could be the case too. Small amounts of oxygen will creep into the bottle over time, lessening the seal and altering the flavor and chemical compound. It’s always best to store your bottles upright, in a cool, dark environment.
Like every other substance that has the capability of inducing a temporary “buzz,” Terpene is an essential compound that is in contained in almost all alcohols, drugs, and even cigarettes. Subjecting your alcohol to a very high temperature could lead to the evaporation and degradation of terpenes, thereby reducing the potency of the alcohol. It can simultaneously enhance the “rubbing alcohol” flavor experience which is also undesirable.
Subjecting your alcohol to extremely cold temperatures is equally bad. The chemical compound can also begin to change under these circumstances. Try to store your bottles at room temperature to increase shelf life. While the deterioration of the alcohol is not rapid – it still can occur. It could take years before you notice any change in the alcohol – but for the best experience, try to finish off your bottles within a few months after uncorking. It’s always best to enjoy your bottles when they are fresh.