Happy Tuesday, all! We have made it to our 4th Tuesday here at The Woman At The Bar, and we think there is no better time to discuss proper shelf life and storage for your precious, precious alcoholic beverages. Sexy, right?
Maybe, maybe not. BUT, it is definitely important–especially since there is a very good chance that some of you have been going about it all wrong for years…but don’t fret, for we are your guardian angels, here to right the wrongs that have been done in the past.
Let’s break this down into two sections: storage, and shelf life. Ready? Okay.
All of your non-refrigerated liquor (we will get to the refrigerated types later…) should be kept in a cool, dry place that is not hit by direct sunlight.
Some examples of places to avoid are:
- On top of a radiator. If you live somewhere with one of these and you thought, “gee, that is a perfect shelf! Let’s take advantage of that!” you need to be smacked upside the head and then monitored while you remove the liquor (or anything else, really) that you have been keeping there. Come on.
- The top of your refrigerator. This is a far more common one. But take a second, have you ever felt the top of your refrigerator? They tend to be warm or hot, and when you set the glass bottles containing your alcohol on top of it you are actually just verrrrry slowly cooking them. We don’t want that.
- A windowsill. Direct sunlight. Again with the very slow cook. Bad. Bad. Bad.
Some examples of good storage spots are:
- A low cabinet in your kitchen. Dark & cool, a perfect combination!
- A back corner of your kitchen counter. As long as it is not being hit by direct sunlight, this is also a-okay.
- On top of/Inside a hutch in your living or dining room. Again, as long as it is not against or directly across from a window, this is a good spot–especially if you want to display what you’ve got!
And finally: if you have been freezing your vodka and/or gin, please stop! We don’t know how this pervasive habit got started, but guess what? It is totally pointless. Storing vodka and gin in the freezer will not help them keep longer or keep them fresher (is this why you have been doing it? We honestly do not understand.) And what’s worse, it CAN actually have an effect on the flavor of the alcohol, especially if you are buying really high quality stuff. So cease and desist immediately, okay?
Shelf life for the various categories of alcoholic beverages differs, but the first thing to remember is this: the higher the alcohol content, the longer it lasts. But unfortunately, it can get a bit more complicated.
- Basic Spirits: Most of your base liquors (gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila etc) will essentially keep indefinitely because of their relatively high alcohol content. The general rule is that anything 80 proof (meaning 40% alcohol) or above is good to go for the long haul. However, as time goes by after the bottle has been opened it will begin to oxidize (meaning that it will react with the air particles building up in the empty space in the bottle) and lose some of its flavor. This generally wont be noticeable for about 2 years after the bottle has been opened, but if you have something really special that you plan to keep and savor for a while (like an expensive Scotch), the best way to maintain its flavor is to transfer it to a smaller bottle as your drink it down so that the amount of air inside is kept as low as possible. Also, it is important to note that liquor will not continue to “age” after it has been bottled in glass, so if you think that your whiskey is just going to keep getting better with time, sorry to burst your bubble but nope, it’s not. The oxidation process will also happen more quickly for liquors with lower alcohol contents–which tend to be things like flavored rums & vodkas–so if you have a bottle of coconut flavored Malibu that has been sitting around for a couple of years, it’s probably time to toss it.
- Liqueurs: Since these tend to have lower alcohol contents than your basic spirits, they will go bad a bit faster. The higher proof varieties (like Benedictine, Chartreuse, or Zwack) are usually safe to keep for a couple of years without their flavor diminishing. Anything below 17% alcohol content (like Falernum or Aperol) will go bad relatively quickly, so you should probably pull them from your shelves after about 18 months. The other thing to keep in mind when dealing with liqueurs is that they usually have much higher sugar contents than your basic spirits, which influences the oxidation and spoiling process. It is incredibly important that you keep a tight seal on all of your liqueur bottles by wiping them down with a wet towel after you use them. Have you ever had a bottle of triple sec, creme de menthe, or something similar that you tried to open for the first time in a while only to find it impossible? That is because the liquid around the rim dried after its last use and the sugar has gummed up the seal. This lets more air in AND can attract ants and other bugs, which you certainly do not want. In the high-sugar liqueurs you also want to watch for any crystallization or discoloration as time goes by–the second you see that, toss that bottle in the trash.
- Cream Liqueurs: Unless specifically stated on the bottle, these do not need to be refrigerated, but they do go bad faster than your other liqueurs. Baileys tends to say on the bottle that it will last 2 years, but we are not the type to chance it after the 1 year mark. It is especially important with these that they are kept in a cool, dim place to avoid spoilage. As time goes by you will also want to watch for any clumping or discoloration, and again make sure you are wiping down the rim after each use to insure a tight seal.
And last but not least…
- Vermouth and Fortified Wines: Pay close attention here. Are you paying attention? These ALL need to be refrigerated!! Vermouth, Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Masala are all wine based, and therefore oxidize very quickly. As soon as they are opened you will want to keep them refrigerated, but even then you should not keep an open bottle for more than 2-3 months. Your best bet here, especially with vermouth, is to buy it in small bottles so you don’t end up tossing half of it each time you buy.
So there you have it! Your official storage and shelf-life guide to liquors, liqueurs, cream liqueurs, and fortified wines! Did you realize as you were reading this that you have been making some mistakes? Well, that is okay. This is a learning process and we are here to help–and don’t worry, we promise not to tell anyone…