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does unsealed whiskey go bad?

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does unsealed whiskey go bad?

Postby ewkevin » Sat Jun 04, 2005 4:15 pm

Once whiskies are opened are drinking, do they expire or go bad after a certain length of time? Or are whiskies still drinkable indefinitely?
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Postby akallio » Sat Jun 04, 2005 6:28 pm

Some of them go bad, some of them don't - maybe. There are also ways to lengthen the lifetime of an opened bottle - possibly.

I'd suggest you to browse through previous discussions on this forum. You can see that this subject has been discussed thoroughly and the conclusion is that no one really knows...
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Jun 04, 2005 6:42 pm

Yes, sometimes, maybe, it depends. (Is that clear?) As mentioned, we had a rather lengthy discussion on this a few months ago. Run a search for "nitrogen" and peruse the topic "How long.....etc."
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Postby Tom » Sat Jun 04, 2005 7:32 pm

Didnt we agreed (mostly) that whisky stays ok for about a year after wich opened bottles have a strong influence of oxidation?
at least thats what i learned from it, since that discussion my rule of thumb is, drink a bottle in less then a year.
hmm, maybe this calls for another experiment.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sat Jun 04, 2005 7:50 pm

May I add that there seems to be a consesus towards the level of whisky left in the bottle as critical to the degree of oxydation? With over half of the bottle intact it should take years before the whisky goes "bad".

Skål!
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Jun 04, 2005 9:40 pm

I think evaporation of alcohol becomes a factor at that point. I once accidentally left the remainder of a dram of Ardbeg on the desk overnight, after which it tasted just awful! It would be interesting if you could put a tiny hygrometer in the bottle to get a fix on how much alcohol you lose over time under various conditions. The amount of air in the bottle, how often it is opened, etc. will be contributing factors. Possibly other essential volatiles evaporate, as well.
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Postby ewkevin » Sun Jun 05, 2005 5:57 pm

Thanks to all for kindly sharing your knowledge. I became intrigued about whether whiskies do go "off" after a few years of intermittent drinking, when a friend mentioned the possibility. My half-finished bottle of Glenfiddich may have succumbed to oxidation, after sitting on my desk for 4 years. I drank a dram of it a few days ago, which tasted rather (perhaps strangely) "fiery" unlike the smoothness I experienced years earlier. The whiskey was "hot" and "cutting", if you can describe it as that.

A friend treated me to a shot of Aberlour whiskey at an Irish pub. It tasted pretty smooth compared to my Glenfiddich whiskey at home. Aberlour had none of the initial "cutting fiery heat" that the Glenfiddich had.

So, what are your diagnosis on that?
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Postby Lord_Pfaffin » Sun Jun 05, 2005 7:57 pm

ewkevin, my diagnosis is that you're suffering a hearing loss: with a little therapy you can actually hear your bottle saying "drink me". With your "whisky-ears"on and tuned in you'll enjoy more drams and avoid the oxidation problem.
Ardaíonn ár ngrá muid féin níos airde i gcónaí!
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Postby Admiral » Mon Jun 06, 2005 5:16 am

Here's the best rule of thumb I know of, and it's pretty accurate:

Once a bottle gets down to a level where only a third of the contents are left, then the ratio of air to whisky in the bottle becomes critical. At around this stage, you have approximately 4 to 6 months to finish the contents before oxidation will start to have a NOTICEABLE negative affect.

Oxidation in the bottle occurs the moment you first pop the cork.
The two issues to consider are how rapid & potent the oxidation is, and then whether the oxidation is having a positive or negative affect.

When the bottle is only a third full, the two issues just mentioned do not work in your favour. You have 4 to 6 months before the remaining contents will start to become noticeably poorer.

(Note: This assumes, of course, that the bottle had reasonably quick and regular visits to get down to a third full. On the other hand, if you consumed the first 40% and then let the bottle sit for, say, three years, then it's a safe bet the remaining whisky will have deteriorated).

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Aidan » Mon Jun 06, 2005 7:52 am

I think it would come down to the exposed surface area as a percentage of the total contents...

Once you're below the neck of the bottle, obviously the surface area exposed to the air is greater and will stay the same until you get to the end of the bottle. However, the more it goes down after this, the higher percentage of the whisky will be oxidised.

Also, I don't think it's the alcohol that is oxidised in these bottles but some of the other contents of the liquid. Nor am I sure it's oxidation that's occuring, although it might well be. I think people are just saying that because there is oxygen in air.

This is a compelte guess, mind you, but the carbon dioxide in the air could disolve to form a weak carbonic acid, which could react with the alcohol to for esters. There are a whole host of reactions that could be occurring. ... ... ...
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Postby Admiral » Mon Jun 06, 2005 9:26 am

Bear in mind that we can base our assertions on two different yet equally acceptable platforms.

The first is scientific theory, i.e. ratio of oxygen to liquid, volumes, surface areas, evaporation of alcohol, etc, etc. I don't feel suitably qualified to offer advice in this regard.

The second is demonstrated proof testing "in the field", whereby if a certain behaviour or result is observed in repeated instances, then one can reach a conclusion as to how similar specimens will behave in future similar instances. In this regard, I feel well qualified to offer my rule of thumb, as outlined above! :wink: :)

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby ewkevin » Mon Jun 06, 2005 9:55 am

Hi Admiral,

What would you say is the optimum time period to fully consume a bottle of whisky, once it's opened? Would it be between one and two years?

Thanks!
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Jun 06, 2005 10:06 am

I have a bottle of Littlemill with a double measure taken from it (c 5cl). How long would I have to leave the bottle before the flavour disappears? Would it disappear quicker if I give the bottle a good shake every now and then?
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Postby Admiral » Mon Jun 06, 2005 12:39 pm

What would you say is the optimum time period to fully consume a bottle of whisky, once it's opened? Would it be between one and two years?


That's a difficult question to give a general answer to, because every whisky is different. For example, younger whiskies sometimes have a bit more depth and body, and can stand up to air in the bottle for a longer period. Older whiskies (i.e. 21 years or older) can sometimes be a little delicate, and therefore have less tolerance to oxidation.

However, I would say this: I believe the optimum time period to consume a bottle is less than 12 months, perhaps even 6 months.

There is little doubt that some whiskies do improve after getting a bit of air in the bottle. For example, there are many posts from numerous contributors on these pages that go along the lines of, "I didn't think much of this whisky when I first opened it, but I let it sit on the shelf for a month or two, and when I returned to it, I suddenly found it much more enjoyable." So there is certainly an initial period, say two to three months, when some whiskies will actually seemingly improve.

My personal feeling is that bottles opened and left to sit for more than a year will probably start to go "stale" or deteriorate, regardless of whether it's 40% full or 80% full. I doubt whether any whisky that had been opened could sit back on the shelf for two years without noticeably deteriorating. And yes, I base this on personal experience, across a range of different malts.

It stands to reason....how many other foods or beverages would you slowly consume over a two period and expect to stay "fresh"? :)

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Admiral » Mon Jun 06, 2005 12:53 pm

I have a bottle of Littlemill with a double measure taken from it (c 5cl). How long would I have to leave the bottle before the flavour disappears? Would it disappear quicker if I give the bottle a good shake every now and then?


So then, I take it you don't like the flavour of Littlemill? :D

Interesting question....unfortunately, deliberately trying to make a malt lose its flavour is not something I specialise in! :wink: :D .

However, I had a 700 ml bottle of Glenmorange Port Wood Finish that had about 175-200ml left in the bottle. I consumed the first 500ml over a 12 month period, and then when I moved house, the bottle was put in a box and forgotten about for nearly three years. When I recently re-discovered the Glenmorangie, I tried a dram, and it had almost completely lost its flavour.

I also once tried the last 50ml of a Bottle of 1958 Highland Park that had been bottled in the mid-1960's, had most of the contents consumed over a two year period, and then left to sit for over 35 years. It had lost all its original flavour, but had also gained other flavours. Sadly, none of these new flavours were pleasant. In truth, I almost threw up!

So what do we conclude? If a bottle of Glenmorangie with 500ml removed takes just under four years to almost lose its flavour, how much longer will a bottle of Littlemill with 50ml removed take?

We can only guess, but I'd place my bid at, say, 10 to 12 years. I'm not sure whether shaking it would accelerate the process. Excluding the comical element of your question, why do you ask?

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Jun 06, 2005 1:36 pm

It was indeed the comical effect I was looking for. The whisky is disgusting (see Tasting Notes forum).

I do wonder, though, why whisky can improve for up to 50 years in a cask (Glenury Royal, apparently, but I need to win the Lottery before I can afford to try it). Other whiskies attribute their flavours to the air around the bonded warehouses. Yet in an opened bottle, whisky loses its flavour. How come?
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Postby Admiral » Mon Jun 06, 2005 1:46 pm

I guess that whilst in the cask, there are two actions taking place. Yes, the cask is breathing and hence the spirit is reacting with air, but at the same time, the whisky is also in contact with the wood, meaning that the spirit is continuing to mature and react with the wood.

Once in the bottle though, the maturation ceases, and there is no wood to react with. The oxidation is therefore not balanced or offset by simultaneous wood reaction, and hence the whisky deterioriates.

Cheers,
Admiral

P.S. Bear in mind that it is a very rare whisky indeed that can stand up to 50 years in a cask!
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Jun 06, 2005 2:01 pm

I know most whiskies have an optimum barrel time of far less than 50 years. I do find it amusing, though, when tourists come into RMW and ask what is the oldest whisky they stock. The tourists presumably think that age=quality. Invariably they walk out with a Glenfiddich 30yo tucked under their arm. I have nothing against Glenf. but I am sure I could spend their money on something younger but more interesting.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Jun 07, 2005 12:52 am

Does your 'Morangie lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

I still think, after some thought, that evaporation (certainly of alcohol but also perhaps of other volatile components) is the main culprit. Every time you pour, you introduce fresh air into the bottle. When, as Admiral notes, the bottle gets below a certain level, the ratio of air to liquid is high, resulting in accelerated evaporation. If my half-assed and entirely nonempirical speculation is true, then the quality of the seal will also be a factor. Corks dry out and become very porous after just a short while. My concept for an experiment would be to reduce two identical bottles to about three-quarters full; close one with the original stopper and the other with some sort of absolute seal; and wait three or four years. Around the time you're going to test the results, open another bottle and just leave it open, for cross reference. But I'm not going to do it; I'd rather drink the stuff and engage in half-assed and entirely nonempirical speculation.
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Postby Aidan » Tue Jun 07, 2005 7:33 am

I think you can mature a whisky in a third fill cask for longer than you can a whisky in a second fill cask etc.

I'll have to dust off my old Bunson burner and get to work on a 40 yr old Laphroaig.
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Postby ewkevin » Tue Jun 07, 2005 6:19 pm

"However, I would say this: I believe the optimum time period to consume a bottle is less than 12 months, perhaps even 6 months."
- Admiral

I reckon you're probably right Admiral. Just as we wouldn't expect our other food and drinks to remain fit for consumption over long periods, it probably is the same for whiskies. It's good to get the feedback from all you whisky-loving folks!

cheers!
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Jun 07, 2005 6:25 pm

I returned to a bottle of Jameson's last night that had about 20% left and I hadn't had any for a few weeks. The bottle was opened in January and the flavour was full and fat. The finish was so long I swear I could still taste the whiskey the next morning.

Last night there were still some strong sherry notes and a pot still tang, but the malty middle was gone. The finish lasted only about a minute and then I couldn't taste anything at all.

Proof that whisky can deteriorate - and deteriorate quickly.
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Postby Aidan » Tue Jun 07, 2005 6:31 pm

ewkevin wrote:"I reckon you're probably right Admiral. Just as we wouldn't expect our other food and drinks to remain fit for consumption over long periods, it probably is the same for whiskies. It's good to get the feedback from all you whisky-loving folks!

cheers!


Yes, qite possibly, but as alcohol is a perservative, it is unlikely to go off because of bacterial or fungial infestation - like most foods... There are other things at work. Magic things.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Jun 07, 2005 6:36 pm

Honey never goes off at all, so perhaps Highland Park should be immune.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Jun 08, 2005 7:35 pm

I keep smaller bottles on hand for just this event -- as a bottle is emptied, if I think it will stay on the shelf more than a couple of months, I transfer the whisk(e)y to a smaller bottle, thus eliminating much of the oxidation that occurs in an 'empty' (but filled with air) bottle.
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Postby bjorn » Sat Jun 11, 2005 7:21 am

what is the take on corked vs. screwtop? plastic screwtop vs. metal? what about storing bottles on their sides instead of upright to keep the cork wet...are there any simple prevention measures??
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Jun 11, 2005 3:30 pm

Screwtops may be the way of the future. They're just so unromantic.

The standard wisdom is never store whisky (or other high-alcohol bevvies with a cork) on their side, as the alcohol will compromise the cork. Someone here has suggested, however, turning the bottles on the sides for a bit every few months to keep the corks from drying out altogether. I don't know personally whether that works or is even a good idea.

Perhaps the answer is a synthetic stopper, but no one's done it yet to my knowledge. Maybe the plastics used for such in the wine trade are even more susceptible to alcohol damage (and thus contamination of the whisky) than corks are. But that's just speculation on my part.

A truly secure closure would certainly eliminate long-term evaporation through the cork, but I'm not sure how much of a problem this really is. Any time I've heard of a sealed bottle with loss due to evaporation, the bottle is really old. I suppose that a relatively large amount of air in the bottle (i.e. low level of fluid) is a greater problem, especially if the bottle is opened a lot.
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Postby Aidan » Sat Jun 11, 2005 4:57 pm

I prefer screwtops, personally, but I don't know why.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Jun 11, 2005 6:01 pm

You know, when you think of it, it's pretty stupid to use a closure that can't stand up to contact with the contents! :?
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Postby bernstein » Sat Jun 11, 2005 6:08 pm

Yeah - true enough. But I still love the "Plopp!" (Onomatopœia) :)
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sat Jun 11, 2005 6:11 pm

Bernstein, you can still get a plopp with plastic corks. Too bad the bastard gets stuck in the corkscrew though.
Yes, I got a weird feeling when Catheau Bonnet started using screwcaps. It's undoubtedly better for the wine and possibly for whisky too. But is it really that important for whisky?
Plastic cork is an alternative to todays variant from the cork tree though.

SKål!
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Cork

Postby bjorn » Sun Jun 12, 2005 5:07 am

I agree that the tops should be able to keep the whisky and it's ridiculous to spend exceedingly large amounts of money on a product that needs to be used within 6 months to a year of its opening...however, I agree with Tattiheid that screwtops are just plain unromantic. what's a whisky drinker to do?
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sun Jun 12, 2005 5:36 am

This might be a little on the side but we are talking about relative oxydation or degrading of the quality. It's not as if a drink or two makes the whisky go bad in a year. It'll probably last years .

Skål!
Christian
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Postby bernstein » Sun Jun 12, 2005 7:27 pm

Mr Fjeld wrote:Bernstein, you can still get a plopp with plastic corks. Too bad the bastard gets stuck in the corkscrew though.
:)
I followed similar discussions concerning wine-bottles over the last couple of years. And I thought that younger wines - determined to current consumption - and plastic corks go well together.
But I don't know, something still goes against the grain with me considering older, maturing wine or matured whisky and profane plastic. Some romantic reminiscence? I know I'm not without ambiguity here, but still feel that it's wrong.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sun Jun 12, 2005 7:47 pm

Then we both feel it's wrong :D

Skål!
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