< back to resources

Does Liquor Go Bad? It Sure Does. Here's Why and When.

January 3, 2020
XuanThy Nguyen
Free Download

While it is sometimes true that the older a liquor gets, the better it tastes, not all liquor defy time like that. Like everything else at your bar, liquor has its own lifespan and shelf life that you need to pay attention to. Some liquor can quickly lose its flavors and qualities after a certain period of time if it isn’t properly stored and cared for. It's especially important to keep this all in mind as you take your bar's inventory.

Why Does Liquor Go Bad?

So what makes a liquor go bad? There are three main factors that can affect the quality of liquor over time: light, temperature, and air. When liquor is exposed to daylight over a long period of time, it can lose colors. For liquor, color changes are indicative of flavor changes. Similar to that, temperature changes can degrade an organic molecule called "terpene," which alters the liquor’s flavor. Lastly, air exposure can lead to oxidation of liquor that affects its flavor.

Once you open a liquor bottle, it can become prone to all of these factors. We recommend that you finish the bottle as soon as possible after you open it because it might not stay good forever.

When Does Liquor Go Bad?

Base Liquors

Does Unopened Liquor Go Bad?

Most base liquors like brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey, are shelf-stable distilled spirits because they do not contain sugar. You can store these bottles for a long time. They have an indefinite shelf life if they stay unopened.

Do Open Bottles of Liquor Go Bad?

Once you open bottles of liquor—base liquors like gin, rum, vodka, tequila, brandy, and whiskey—they can lose certain flavor qualities over a few years. But they won't spoil.

Liqueurs and Cordials

Liqueurs and cordials like schnapps, amaretto, and triple sec, are more temperamental because they contain sugar and other ingredients that can spoil. The higher the concentration of sugar in them, the faster they will deteriorate. A lot of liqueurs and cordials, like crème liqueurs, may spoil and become undrinkable after a year or more. Even when they are left unopened. Once you open a liqueur or cordial, make sure to store them carefully according to their storage guidelines. Because they are very prone to air exposure and can lose flavors quickly.  

Most liqueurs and cordials may include preservatives to combat spoilage, which you can find out by checking the label on the bottle. Some of the more sensitive liqueurs will include an expiration date there as well. However, if you see any sugar crystallizing at the bottom, discoloration, curdling, or other changes, we recommend disposing of the bottle immediately. If well-sealed, most liqueurs and cordials can last for months and even years, depending on the alcohol content and preservatives.

Fortified Wines

The average shelf life of an opened fortified wine, like dry and sweet vermouth, is much longer than most regular wines. Typically, you can store vermouth in an opened bottle for at least a few months. However, it can become musty and lose flavor if stored for too long. Some bar owners and managers keep fortified wines in the refrigerator, but that doesn’t extend their shelf life by much.

Non-Alcoholic Mixers

For non-alcoholic mixers and other perishable items, we suggest following the recommended expiration date on the labels and refrigerate them after opening. Juices, bottled cocktails, and similar mixers can become spoiled at room temperature. Lastly, the ones with the shortest life span at your bar are most likely sodas and sparkling waters. Consume these shortly after opening the bottle.

Useful Tips On Storing Liquor

In order to run your bar effectively and successfully, it is best to avoid wasting your inventory. Every dollar spent on inventory that you end up throwing away is a dollar that you could’ve spent on other expenses. Here are a few tips on how to store your liquor properly:

  • Keep opened bottles tightly sealed. You can use either the original cap or a replacement cork. A wine stopper can work too, as it takes the air out of the bottle.
  • Don’t store your liquor with speed pourers unless you're using them for special occasions. These allow air to get inside the bottle and will quickly deteriorate the alcohol's quality.
  • Avoid exposing your liquor to extreme heat or cold. You should try keeping your liquor cabinet away from an exterior wall and heat vents.
  • Avoid bright and direct light. Consider storing liquor bottles behind tinted glass if window light is prevalent in your bar.
  • When in doubt, pour the liquor into a glass to do a smell or taste test. If it doesn't look, smell, or taste right, it's best to throw it away than serving it to your guests.

So, can liquor go bad? Yes, your liquor can go bad. Quickly, too, if you're not careful enough in the storing process. Like everything else in your bar, your liquor has its own expiration dates that you need to be aware of. The last thing that you want is to serve your guests with a liquor that has already gone bad. In order to avoid wasting your liquor, you can keep track of every bottle’s expiration date using a bar inventory spreadsheet. But that can be an enormous amount of work if you have more than a thousand liquor bottles.

That's why we recommend having an inventory management system in place, like BinWise Pro. It automates the process and keep track of your inventory’s shelf time for you.

BinWise Pro is an all-in-one inventory management system that helps you manage your wine program more effectively and successfully. It keeps track of every bottle’s expiration dates and shelf time. The system will alert you when a bottle is about to pass its drink-by date so you never waste your inventory again. Contact us to learn more about BinWise Pro and how it can help your bar!