How long is a Whisky's shelf life?

Learn why Whisky does not last infinitely in an opened bottle and how to extend the storage time.

Question: I have several bottles of Whisky in my bar. How long is the shelf life of Whisky?

Answer: We distinguish between opened and unopened Whisky bottles.

Unopened

Whisky is stored upright. Whisky in unopened bottles does not get better (or worse) when stored, unlike Wine. The bottles must be stored upright, because the cork does not close as tightly as with Wine. The cork on a Whisky bottle is a utility cork in contrast to the disposable cork of a Wine bottle. That is why it does not sit so tightly.

The Whisky must not be exposed to direct sunlight. Otherwise it will fade. A bar compartment or box protects Whisky from light. This way it is possible to store a bottle of Whisky for ten years. During this time, however, the liquid level will decrease due to slight evaporation through the cork. In order to observe a bottle, it is advisable to make a small mark with a marker pen on the back. This way you can check whether the evaporation remains within the limits.

If you want to store Whisky for a longer period of time, you have to be more careful. First of all you should make sure that the temperature is lower than room temperature. The lower the temperature, the less evaporation. An extra cap over the cork also helps. But please make sure that this cap does not soil the original sleeve. This reduces the value of the bottle just as much as sealing wax, for example.

Bottles with simple screw caps have to be tightened by hand regularly, because they always loosen by themselves and the Whisky evaporates more and more. Gordon & MacPhail bottles are typical representatives of this type.

If you store the bottle in the cellar, you should additionally protect the bottle from moisture. The label starts to get mouldy relatively easily in a damp cellar. A thin plastic bag in which you pack the bottle airtight is ideal. But beware! The plastic bag must not contain any softeners or other chemical substances. They could fade the label and affect the bottle contents via the cork.

Opened

Opened Whisky behaves differently. It changes its taste. But this happens much more slowly than with Wine, which becomes undrinkable within a few days. Opened Whisky keeps for about 6 months. What happens in the bottle during this time?

First, alcohol evaporates and the Whisky becomes softer in taste. The air in the bottle also contains active gases that react very slowly with the flavours of the Whisky. How the taste changes is not predictable. Sometimes it gets better; but often it gets worse.

Avoid these changes by leaving less air above the Whisky. You can do this by decanting into a small half bottle or by filling the bottle with small glass balls (e.g. marbles). But please do not use a carafe for decanting. We do not know of any high-quality carafe that is really tight over a long period of time. The carafe must have a plastic seal.

It is best, however, not to open so many Whisky bottles at once and drink the ones you open within a few months.