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

January 3, 2020
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BinWise Staff
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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 (which is admittedly not easy to do with some liquor bottle sizes) as soon as possible after you open it because it might not stay good forever.

When Does Liquor Go Bad?

Primary Liquors

Does Unopened Liquor Go Bad?

Most primary (also called "base") liquors like whiskey, brandy, rum, gin, tequila, and vodka, have an almost infinite shelf life if left unopened. That's because they don't have much sugar and, unopened, aren't at risk of any oxidation.

Do Open Bottles of Liquor Go Bad?

Once you open bottles of liquor (primary liquors like vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, tequila, etc.) they tend to lose certain flavor qualities over a few years. But they won't spoil. If an opened bottle of liquor is nearing its date of expiry, you can always use it for a happy hour drink idea and discount it.

Liqueurs and Cordials

Liqueurs and cordials like Grand Marnier, Drambuie, and Midori will spoil much sooner, though. That's because they contain sugar and other volatile ingredients. If you're ever confused about which bottle will expire fastest, just look at the sugar content. The more sugar an alcohol has, the faster it will expire. Especially if opened. lot of liqueurs and cordials, like crème liqueurs, may spoil and become undrinkable after a year or more. Even if your bottle isn't on the verge of spoiling, it's best to store them strictly according to their storage guidelines. Because they can lose their flavors over just a few months, if opened.

Check the bottle to see if there are any preservatives. That may help stem the tide of spoilage. There may even be an expiration date on the bottle. That's always helpful. But if you ever see any discoloration or sedimentation in the bottle, it's best to chuck it. You can give it a quick taste test if you want, but chances our it won't meet your standards.

Fortified Wines

The average shelf life of an opened fortified wine, like Port or sherry, is a lot longer than regular types of wines. That checks out, because, as we saw above, the more alcohol is in a liquor (i.e., the less sugar), the longer it'll last. The same holds true for wine. Fortified wines have higher ABVs, and that alcohol acts as a preservative. Typically, you can store fortified wines, once opened, for a couple of months.

Non-Alcoholic Mixers

For non-alcoholic mixers and other perishable items, we suggest following the stated expiration date on the bottles. You'll often need to refrigerate these after you open them, too, and that'll also be on the bottle. This includes juices, too. Lastly, the ones with the shortest life span at your bar are most likely sodas and sparkling waters. As anyone knows from a lifetime of consuming carbonated beverages, that stuff doesn't last long. Use the fizzy stuff as soon as you can after opening it.

What Happens When Alcohol Goes Bad?

When hard alcohol "goes bad," it loses its color and its taste becomes duller. There are two primary causes of alcohol losing its color and flavor. They are light and air. We’ll also cover heat, because whether heat affects alcohol is a common question.

Is Light Bad for Liquor?

Light, and specifically sunlight, affects the molecules within liquor bottles. It breaks down and changes the liquor’s organic compounds. This mostly affects the color of the liquor, but it does have ramifications regarding the taste. In that, like the color, the taste can dull.

What Happens When Alcoholic Beverages Are Left Exposed to Air?

Oxidation. Once opened, bottles of alcohol and liquor are no longer fully sealed and are subject to degradation by air exposure. Specifically the oxygen within the air. Once a liquor begins oxidation, it can take years for the alcohol molecules to break down. But once they do, they taste more acidic and tart.

What Happens if You Store Liquor in a Hot Place?

Alcohol is created in high temperatures and remains relatively shelf stable in temperatures beyond the most extreme. There’s little danger in storing alcohol in consistently hot, by human standards, temperatures.

Can Old Alcohol Make You Sick?

No, it can’t. When alcohol molecules are broken down and degraded by sunlight and air, their colors change and their tastes dull. But the only thing old alcohol will make you is unimpressed, not sick.

Useful Tips On Storing Liquor

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 the two best tips for storing liquor:

  • Keep as much air as possible from entering the bottle. You can use either the original cap or a stopper, just make sure it's sealed nice and tight. That also means removing speed pourers from bottles during storage.
  • Don't expose bottles to any extremes. That means hot, cold, and light. Keep bottles in a room temperature encironment and out of direct light.

So, can liquor go bad? Yes, your liquor can go bad. Quickly, too, if you're not careful enough in the storing process. Which is why it's important that your bar buys liquor in the right amount and stocks the bar considering usage and par levels. Like everything else in your bar, your liquor has its own expiration dates that you need to be aware of. And that goes for beer, too. Always know how many beers in a keg, so you know when you're about to run out. The last thing that you want is to serve your guests with a liquor that has already gone bad. 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!