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Does Bourbon Go Bad

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: February 28th, 2023

When it comes to spirits, few are as iconic as bourbon. This American whiskey has a rich history, dating back to the 18th century.

Thanks to its unique flavor and strong association with the United States, bourbon has become one of the most popular spirits in the world.

But what many people don’t realize is that the shelf life of bourbon isn’t much different from the shelf life of whiskey as a whole.

So does Bourbon go bad? The simple answer is yes but there are many contributing factors some of which can be avoided altogether.

Does Bourbon Go Bad? What You Need to Know

Unopened Bottle of Bourbon

Unopened, a bottle of bourbon won’t go bad. You can store it for decades, but why is that?

The answer has to do with the unique properties of alcohol. Unlike water, alcohol is a natural preservative. It inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, and other microorganisms.

Therefore, it can help to prolong the shelf life of food and beverage products.

In the case of bourbon, the high alcohol content prevents the formation of off-flavors and ensures that the whiskey retains its original flavor profile over time.

So if you’re looking to age your bourbon, there’s no need to worry about it going bad. Just be sure to store it in a cool, dark place, and you’ll be able to enjoy it for many years to come.

unopened bottle of bourbon

Opened Bourbon Bottle

Once a bottle of bourbon is opened, it takes about one to two years before it’s bad. Unlike wine, bourbon doesn’t improve with age in the bottle. So, once it is opened, it loses flavor and aroma.

It all has to do with the barrel aging process. Bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels, which imparts flavor and color to the spirit. Once a bottle is opened, that contact with oxygen begins to break down the compounds in the bourbon, causing it to lose its flavor and aroma.

So if you’re looking to enjoy your bourbon at its best, you’ll want to drink it within a year or two of opening the bottle.

opened bourbon bottle

What Makes Bourbon Go Bad?

So, what makes a liquor go bad? Three main factors can affect the quality of liquor over time: light, temperature, and air.

Why is light bad for liquor? For liquor, color changes are indicative of flavor changes. When liquor is exposed to daylight over a long period of time, it can lose color.

Similar to that, temperature changes can degrade an organic molecule called a “terpene,” which alters the liquor’s flavor. Lastly, air exposure can lead to the oxidation of liquor which affects its flavor.

That said, if you store bourbon at a moderate temperature away from direct light, it can last almost indefinitely. The same goes for unopened bottles of wine. However, once a bottle of wine is opened, it begins to oxidize and will only taste good for a few days.

Beer is the most sensitive to storage conditions out of the three main types of alcohol. Excessive heat, light, or oxygen can cause a beer to develop off-flavors quickly.

So if you’re going to have open bottles of alcohol, bourbon will have the most extended shelf life.

How to Keep Bourbon After Opening

If you’ve ever found yourself with an open bottle of bourbon and not quite sure what to do with it, don’t worry-you’re not alone. Here are a few simple tips to help you keep your bourbon tasting great after opening.

First, make sure to close the bottle tightly after each pour. This will help to keep the contents from evaporating. Second, store the bourbon in a cool, dark place.

Heat and light can both contribute to the breakdown of the flavors in bourbon, so it’s essential to keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heating vents or radiant heat sources.

Finally, don’t be afraid to give your bottle a little shake every now and then. This will help to redistribute the flavors and keep them from settling at the bottom of the bottle.

keep bourbon after opening

How to Tell if Bourbon Has Gone Bad

While bourbon doesn’t technically go “bad,” it can certainly change over time. If you’ve noticed that your bourbon has developed an off odor or suddenly changed in taste, it’s best to discard it.

Once bourbon is exposed to oxygen, it begins to break down and can develop a sour smell. If you notice any sediment in the bottle, this is also a sign that the bourbon has been exposed to oxygen and is beginning to spoil.

While some color changes are expected, if the bourbon is starting to look cloudy or murky, this is another sign that it has gone bad. When in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and throw out any bourbon that doesn’t look or smell right.

All in all, whiskey does not go bad in the sense that it will make you sick. However, whisky can lose its flavor and aroma over time. So, if you have an old bottle of whisky that you want to drink, it might be best to open it up and give it a try.

About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a blogger for over 5 years, before that enjoying a number of jobs to fund her passion for travel. She's taught English as a foreign language, a part-time Barista, a waitress, and a tour guide.

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