How to Store Scotch Whisky

If you’re like me, your ability to buy scotch far outpaces your ability to drink it. Every time I go through Duty Free at Heathrow, I seem to leave with a handful of bottles and now I have at least a dozen I haven’t even opened yet! Fortunately, like wine, the rules for storing Scotch are simple and it is far less delicate than wine!

Avoid Light, Air, Heat

The enemies of Scotch, like its younger cousin beer, are light, air, and heat. The key to storing your Scotch so that it remains unchanged is to minimize its contact to all three:

  • Why does light affect Scotch? Unlike beer, which is usually bottled in dark brown bottles, Scotch is generally stored in lighter colored bottles, usually clear, to show of its amazing radiant color. Beer is stored in dark bottles to protect it from light, which changes the chemical composition of hops. When you boil hops, it releases/produces isohumulones, aka isomerized alpha acids, which produces the same chemicals that skunks spray when they come into contact with visible or UV light (hence the term “skunked beer”). Scotch is less affected by this but it still is a factor.
  • Why does air affect Scotch? The reason air affects Scotch has to do with oxidation, the same reason it affects wines and other spirits once they’ve been open.
  • Why does heat affect Scotch? It’s really a mixture of heat and humidity but it has to do with evaporation. Scotch, unlike wine, doesn’t mature in the bottle so there’s really not an “ideal” temperature (unlike wine, which is said to mature best between 55° and 60°F). You want to keep it fairly cool because a higher, dryer temperature will result in faster evaporation if the seal of the cork is not 100%.

How to Store Scotch Whisky

Knowing that light, air and heat will all change your spirit, the key is to find a cool dark place to store your Scotch. I keep mine in glass cases in the basement and I store my bottles upright. The reason wine is stored sideways on racks is because you want to keep the wine corks in contact with the wine. As wine ages, the corks will crack and keeping them in contact with the wine will help them retain moisture. With Scotch, it’s recommended that you store it upright because the higher alcohol content can degrade the cork.

Once a bottle is opened, you introduce air into the mix and oxidation begins. In general, you can keep a bottle of scotch around for about a year (though I wouldn’t toss it unless it tastes bad) after it’s been opened, longer if you suck the air out of the bottle. If you get down to the last few drams, be aware that there’s more air inside now and the timeline shortens.

If you want to get the air out, you can use this wine preserver (it’s just nitrogen in a compressed can, 120 uses, and that’ll cover the whisky inside with a layer of non-oxidizing nitrogen) or get Vacu Vin wine saver. My vote is the spray.

So keep it dark and cool (and sealed!) and you should be fine however you store it.

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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85 Responses to How to Store Scotch Whisky

  1. gary says:

    Are there actual studies that suggest scotch stored at 85 vs 60 will have a very different taste- or a bottle stored in a room with an a average sunlight vs a dark room will have a different taste or even in direct sunlight – and a scotch after a year or even 3 will taste different- and finally has any study been done where near empty bottles are stored with a sample from the same bottle is put in a small bottle to the brim- or any opened bottle over half full tasting different after 2 or 3 years– all I read are opinions

  2. Andrew says:

    Had a 12 year old Balvenie last night that was bought two years ago. Bottle was 70 percent empty. And been stored above the refrigerator. That Scotch was perfection.

  3. darin says:

    I live in Texas in a 1 room efficiency. I stocked up on Lagavulin Distler Edition bottles(4) and I also have the special 21 year old release. I store them in my closet. When I am gone I keep my apt. thermostat at 81 degrees. Will this be ok for storing my scotch?

    Also, sometimes I accidentally leave the 60watt light bulb on in my closet. Would this create extra heat that could mess up my scotch?

    • Jim says:

      You will generally be OK if it’s in the dark and at reasonable temperatures. 81 is a little warm but not incredibly high. The 60w light bulb won’t really have an impact but the light might over time – just remember to turn it off.

  4. Alistair says:

    I have mine in a closet in the basement so light is not an issue. Regarding temperature it fluctuates from 60F in coldest months to 80F in hottest months. The change in temperature is very gradualy and no more than 1 degree over 24 hours. Is that acceptable ?

    • Jim says:

      It sounds like you should be safe storing it in your closet under those those conditions, unless you’re in a particularly dry area.

  5. Kevin says:

    I recently moved to the Virgin Islands where the temperature is 87 by day and 80 by night. I finally got my hands on a bottle of Laphroaig 10. Should I store it somewhere out of the light or would the refrigerator be better?

    • Jim says:

      Laphroaig is in a green bottle so light is less of a concern and humidity is generally relatively high in the Virgin Islands, so you’re likely safe leaving it outside of a fridge and storing it somewhere dark (to be safe). That said, if you prefer your whisky cool, it doesn’t hurt to put it in the fridge.

  6. Frost says:

    I recently was fortunate enough to visit the Kavalan distillery. I stocked up…big! Way over my Australian duty limit (2.25L) so am storing my Kavalan Distillery Reserve in Kuala Lumpur until I return next year.

    Considering Malaysian climates and humidity in an apartment with air con off…is it safe to store it: in the fridge, standing upright & unopened?

    Of course once it’s safe back in Australia it will sit on the shelf unchilled !

    Thanks in advance, I really enjoy your page

  7. Craig Hansen says:

    I am a designer in the SF Bay area and have been asked to design some alterations to a private bar that is part of a rather upscale tech company. The current design of the bar shows off all of their liquor on glass shelves backed up against a giant window with a grand view of downtown. It’s beautiful and swanky to look at, but with all that sunlight—and some heat—thrown on their bottles, much of their liquor is suffering for it.

    Presuming I am somehow able to figure out a way to maintain a lower temperature, I am wondering whether creating a large glass cabinet out of UV inhibiting glass (99% of UV blocked) would adequately protect the liquor from light damage. I would greatly appreciate your or anyone’s expertise on this. Thanks very much.

  8. Christian says:

    I have seen a Balvenie 40 yo (among other expensive bottles) in an airport shop. It is on a permanent display outside its wooden box. Does that really mean, it now gets bad?

    • Jim says:

      I seriously doubt it as long as it wasn’t opened, I would ask how long it’s been there. Airports are generally air conditioned (or at least climate controlled) so your only worry is light.

      • Christian says:

        Thanks for your quick reply. The Balvenie 40 yo is a Batch 1, so it has been there probably for a good 3 years. Indeed, light is my only worry, but how serious is it, should I nevertheless go for the bottle, or rather not….

        • Alistair says:

          Christian,

          3 yrs in a climate controlled place should not be too worrying. Light might be a concern but then again 3 yrs is not that much. For me the important factors are the reputation of the store, the professionalism of the operator, and of course the visible conditions of the bottle (labels condition, look of the seal, ullage level, etc). The 40 yr Balvenie is a masterpiece! Never tried it but thats what they say!

  9. Hylton brown says:

    I’ve just been given Queen Anne and black and white without a dog can you advise how best to store as according to websites these are worth £200 and £100 respectively ?????

  10. William Owen says:

    Upright bottle storage dries out corks and makes them difficult to remove – they break/separate/split and drop down into the bottle. Once opened, I replace the cork with a tapered rubber wine bottle stopper.

  11. shiba says:

    Hi! I have purchased a bottle of Glenfiddich 18 YO on December 2013. But I kept it sideways for nearly eight months. Please let me know the consequences. Has the cork marred its character?

    • Jim says:

      I think it should be fine.

      • vaishk says:

        I hv also. Glenfiddic one full bottle. It was my uncle purchaed before 20 yr.. It is not opend.. I wud like to open soon.. Hw it was..? Bad..?

    • Alistair says:

      Very unlikely that the cork has an affect in 8 months … the problem of laying it sideways is that cork may be damaged by the alcohol and loses its sealing (especially if it is intended for long-term storage). The problem of marring the character is very remote imo, and certainly will not happen in just 8 months.

  12. jassy says:

    I had kept few bottles in a cabinet with woolen clothes now the scotch is having odour of mothballs. How to get rid of thr odour.

    • Jim says:

      Are you saying the scotch itself smells like mothballs? Or just the boxes?

      • Jassy says:

        Scotch itself. Would not have bothered much if it was the box.

        • 7%Solution says:

          I know it’s been a long time since you left this comment, but if it helps, I’d suggest decanting your whisky. For other reasons, Ralfy (Ralfy.com) suggests pouring your whisky into a decanter (or cleaned out glass container) with a funnel, then pouring it back into the bottle, and repeating this 2 or 3 times. Mothballs are typically made from dichlorobenzene, which is a volatile chemical and breaks down fairly rapidly. Perhaps the increased exposure to air in the decanting process will speed the breakdown of dichlorobenzene, and will hopefully reduce the mothball taint from your scotch.

          Just a thought.

          And as you probably know now, try not to store your scotch with ANYTHING that has a strong aroma or perfume.

  13. Zing says:

    I have some bottles of whisky whicht I bought recently- a Lagavulin 16yo, a Japanese Hakashu, a couple of single cask bottles from Edingburgh. I live in Singapore where the temperature is between 26 and 32 deg Celcius (between 80 and 86 deg F). Is it better to store them in my wine chiller (which I keep at a constant 14 deg C, 57 degF) or is it alright to store them in a cabinet at Singapore room temperature? Thank you!

    • Alistair says:

      If you are storing long term I don’t think the chiller is a good idea. Also make sure that you store them upright. 26 to 32 degrees is a little bit on the high side but I don’t think it will damage the whisky as long as you store them in the coolest place possible and away from light and vibrations (I store them in my basement in Malta and in Summer peak it can get up to 26/27). Ideally you also select a place with high humidity as that will improve the cork seal. High humidity also means less evaporation possible because the air is saturated.

      If you want to store for the short term you will have no problem whatsoever. Just keep it away from light.

    • Jim says:

      I think room temperature would be fine, the risk of the chiller is more that you’d be putting them on their side. It’s best to store them upright (unlike wine bottles).

  14. Devon Seidner says:

    I received a 12yr old bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whiskey and I was wondering if its safe to put it in the freezer. Will it ruin it?

  15. Andy says:

    Hello Jim, have a question. I have a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue 1.75L engraved that I opened about 3 years ago and basically poured a small amount into two glasses and closed it right back. I wanted to do something special for my dying dad (cancer) so we took a video of this with my infant son in hand. I have kept the bottle upright all this time and put the bottle back in the box to preserve light issues. My question is that because I opened it and probably took about 60ml out, what would the best way for me to keep the bottle preserved? I wanted to reopen it again with my son when he is of age as the very glasses are still stored to this day from which they were poured into. any thoughts? My thoughts were that since it was a 1.75L bottle and not the smaller ones that a minimal pour might not be as bad but I think I am mistaken. I would appreciate any ideas.

    • Jim says:

      You might want to make sure the seal of the cork is tight, then do what you’re doing and maybe use some wine preserver just to be sure.

  16. franc says:

    I left my whisky inside the garage where temperature goes to very high specialy in the summer and its been open for more than a year s it stil safe to drink, thank you

    • Jim says:

      It’ll be safe but it’ll taste different than when you first opened it. Chances are it’ll be fine and won’t notice the difference. 🙂

    • darin says:

      That is a horrible thing to do to leave it open….air induces chemical change. Especially open circulating air. It may taste fine to you…but if you compared it to before the chemical change you would notice the difference.

  17. Anshul says:

    Hi Jim,

    I am from India and the temperature here goes quite high in summers- upto 47C. I was wondering if it would be safe to store my whiskey inside a refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before serving? What about red wine?

  18. VeeR says:

    We live in the middle east where the temperatures go quite high and A/Cs are not on if we are not at home. What is the best way to store Scotch. The insides of our cupboards too get warm.

  19. cko says:

    Hi, would there be a problem storing whiskey in a wine refrigerator that has humidity?

  20. JQ says:

    We keep our Scotch in the basement (cool and dark) but it gets a little musty smelling, so we run a dehumidifier, especially in the spring and summer. My question is– does anyone know if we run the risk of the must smell tainting the whisky or does the high humidity protect the whisky from the musty odor? (BTW, our winters get pretty dry, but I don’t run a humidifier). Thanks!

    • Jim says:

      I would think the whisky is sealed with a cork so you should be fine.

    • Alistair says:

      In my opinion, the smell might taint the whisky but in the very long run (after many years). I think that there is more risk of the cardboard container tainting the taste rather than the outside ambient smells. But again this is very limited and happens only after many years.

      Humidity is good because it limits evaporation and keeps the cork seal tight. Ideally it should be more than 50% but less than 80% (to avoid the musty smells / risk of mold). Maybe in your case increasing slightly the ventilation can be better than a dehumidifier, if that is possible. I found this to be the best solution for my basement whisky collection.

  21. Jacob says:

    I am really new when it comes to whiskeys, but before leaving to my 2 month trip, I left 21 Balvenie (unopened and sealed in a box), sitting on top of my fridge. The temperature on the top of the fridge gets a little hot, so there is anything I should worry about?

  22. Yogesh says:

    I am from India where the temperature in summer goes upto 47c. I have an scotch bottle of Johnny walker double black which I have stored in my wooden cupboard horizontally.is it safe to store it for long with seal open.
    Plz advice

  23. Aaron says:

    Hi,

    Great info! …if I may contribute a bit 🙂

    I’m so cautious about heat, and especially light, I keep unopened bottles in a 150 qt, clean ice chest (no ice used of course)… inside, it is lined with foil to protect against the 50-60% of UVA rays which can pass through (closed) glass windows. If windows are open, even if the room is not significantly lit by indirect light (ie; if its cool/shady)– UVB rays will make their way inside*. An ice chest also serves to minimize temperature fluctuations. I recommend a secondary, smaller, seperate ice chest (again, no ice), to keep opened bottles in. Having two chests means less light exposure to my unopened bottles when I reach for my daily dram. If possible, keep them in a cool, dark area, free of must/mold/mildew. A closet works well for my temperature zone. 15-18° C or 60-65° F is an ideal temperature range for long term storage. If it is above or below a few degrees, don’t worry (really)…you just want to avoid really hot or really cold temps. Hot is worse, but you don’t want your non chill filtered bottles getting too cold either.
    As Jim pointed out, upright storage is best. One commenter expressed their opinion that the cork will dry out/shrink/crack if stored upright too long, this is true (I’ve seen it happen to one of my own bottles)- but it doesn’t happen to all, (usually a cheap cork is the culprit, and some great distilleries use less than great corks). The solution is simple however– use odor free, durable tape if this is a concern to strengthen the seal. The tape should be sticky enough to affect a reinforced seal, but not so sticky that removing it will damage or rip the foil collar when the time comes to open the bottle, you don’t want sticky tape residue on your collar either. Ultimately, tape, then sealers wax will eliminate the remotest of possibilities of any nitrous escaping/oxygen seaping in…but honestly– that’s overkill, and ruins the presentation, along with any likely opportunity for resale down the road.
    Jim also pointed out that horizontal storage will degrade the cork. I fully agree, and sadly have purchased a high end bottle that had been stored horizontally…when I opened it, and every time I uncorked it, the cork left a fine powder of dissentigrated cork powder on the rim of the bottle which ends up in the glass AND the bottle…the flavour was affected. It’s sad to find a prized bottle, get excited about it, then be disappointed because it’s flavour is effected by cork powder (much like an unfiltered whiskey has extra flavour from bits of barrel or cask char, you get extra flavour of disentigrated cork powder on your palate).

    * “When people in the shade estimate UVB exposure based on an eyeball assessment, they’re getting about twice as much UVB as they think,” Grant says. UVB, unlike visible light, doesn’t shine down in a straight line from the sun. It bounces around in the atmosphere…How much UVB you’re getting more closely correlates with how much sky you can see,” Grant says. “If lots of the sky is obstructed, you’re getting a lot less UVB.” -Dr. Richard Grant, Purdue University

    “In other words, if you’re in a grove of trees or surrounded by tall brick walls with direct light hitting you, you’re probably better off than you would be in the dense shade of a lone tree in a field.” -Environmental News Network (summarizing Dr. Grant’s words, [from their interview]).

    • Aaron says:

      To clarify, yes my chest containing unopened bottles is lined with foil (because I’m overly cautious that radiation/gamma rays can penatrate the plastic ice chest) But my bottles are also carefully wrapped in foil for when i do open it. I permanently remove the foil when opening a bottle that ends up in my smaller chest of opened bottles. I don’t recommend lining a chest with foil unless you also wrap your bottles for storage, because light bounces off the surface when the lid is open…a bit rediculous I know lol…for me it’s worth the peace of mind, and really isn’t that inconvenient considering the one is for long term storage. Thank-you and great thread!

  24. Aaron says:

    “…But my bottles are also carefully wrapped in foil for when I do open it” (to protect against UVA rays)

    Jim, feel free to edit/paraphrase that if you wish, sorry.

    Thank-you,
    -Aaron

  25. Nigel says:

    Hi I have whisky that I have stored upright for 2 years and then made a rookie error and stored in on its side for the past 5 weeks. I have now returned it back to an upright position. Will that cause any issues to the cork and the seal on the whisky. These are all unopened bottles

  26. Shiv says:

    Hi Jim.. I have a johnnie walker blue label & a glenlivet bottle bought 3 years ago. Seal is intact for both the bottles. I have kept it away from sunlight & seal is also intact so no problem with air also. But the bottles are constantly exposed to higher temperatures( I live in India & general day time temperature in India is between 65 °F to 85 °F, and even little more than 90°F sometimes. So does this temperature has any effect on quality of my alcohol? Please suggest.

    • Jim says:

      I suspect it won’t have a significant impact, it could make for a great test though! Buy a new Glenlivet and taste it side by side. 🙂

  27. Kenny says:

    Hi, I just was wondering is it OK to store Johnny Walker Black in the original box and in our refrigerator, for long periods of time.?
    Where do you recommend the best place to store the Johnny Walker Black in its original box.?
    Could you email me back your answers at
    Kjgravell@comcast.net
    Thanks KENNY

  28. Phil says:

    Hi, I am in similar situation to Zing (2014 post). I live in Singapore which is hot and humid, 26-32 degrees year round. I have the option of either storing in a closet or in my wine fridge at 16 degrees, which is what I have been doing. Alistair commented that it’s best to avoid the wine chiller, why might this be (apart from lying horizontal) ? I have bottles that will be stored for years so would like to store as safely as possible … I’d imagine this situation is common a lot of readers in tropical countries. Thanks Phil

  29. Jon says:

    Hello Jim.
    i have 2 blue label bottles in my basement for 3 years already, i want to save them at least 10 years.
    will they taste better after 10 years in the bottle?
    thank you

  30. Tejaswini k says:

    Hi there! We bought a Glendidditch three days back and forgot it in the boot of the car! I know heinous! But we are a bit scared if its spoiled as its very hot weather wise and its been lying there for three days now! Its a corked unopened bottle but we could smell the leak although we cant find the source. Is it ok to drink it?

  31. Hansen Lim says:

    Hi
    I have a bottle of chivas regal 25 years given as a present
    I want to keep it for only special occasion or family coming over
    WHat is the best way to store it? I live in SIngapore and my house is in constant 27-30 degree Celcius. I already keep it inside a almost airtight and 100% no light can go through cabinet where I keep my crackers and stuff. Is this acceptable

  32. Hansen Lim says:

    How to store whiskey in Singapore? where my house is constant 28-30 degree I already tried to put them bottles at dark almost airtight cabinet the humidity in my house is 40-45%? All my whiskey is screw cap type ie chivas regal…..some are opened so don’t know how long will it last

  33. Kay says:

    Love your answers to question I left my scotch in my car 4 hrs. It was 97 degrees Is my scotch still good? It was not open.

  34. brent says:

    I have my unopened bottles stored in the cardboard boxes that comes with the whiskybottle. But when I open the box and smell inside, its smells very concentrated cardboard. Thats perfectly logical, its cardboard. But storing a bottle like this for 5-10 yrs, in smelly cardbox environment….wont it affect the whisky?

  35. RJ says:

    Hi Jim, great info here appreciate your replies! I am new to higher end Scotches, discovere Lagavulin 16 and I love it. My condo is normally about 70 degrees (air conditioned) and I wonder if after opened its ok to store the Lagavulin in the original box, will this shield it from light enough? And keep air out? I dont really have a darker spot for it.. and to be honest.. having the box out inspires my friends to ask about it.. then I get to share it with them! (The last bottle I left out for about 2 months.. but it seemed to be ok (assume the darker bottle helps with light)?

    Thanks!

  36. robert jackson says:

    I purchased a bottle of chivas regal 21 year old scotch whiskey in approximately 1977. The whisky was bottled in a brown ceramic bottle and presented in a brown velvet bag. I can vouch to store the bottle upright at all times. The whiskey was a forgotten gift and has now been discovered today 14th Oct. 2016 laying down in a removalists carton (box). The bottle is completely empty and the cork rotten. This is for those that have doubts on storage method.

  37. steven j kerr says:

    Jim
    what would you say is the best device to use to suck the air out of the bottle? should I use a wine vacu vin and quickly take that off and replace the cork? what do you suggest? thanks

    • Jim says:

      To be honest, I’ve never done anything with bottles to suck out the air or anything like that. I think the best bet might be to use this nitrogen spray or a Vacuvin works too (with the attachment – I don’t think you can get the cork in fast enough).

  38. Alan Robertson says:

    I have three bottles of whisky and don’t plan on opening them but keeping them for the foreseeable future. I have them wrapped in bubble wrap to protect but are still in their original boxes, standing up at the back of a cupboard, are they being stored correctly?

  39. Mark says:

    Hi Tim,
    I am currently expecting the birth of my first child in a couple of months and on the day of its birth I am planning to buy a 25 year old bottle of The Glenlivet to store and open on its 21st birthday.
    Could you offer and tips on storing a bottle for the long?
    Do you think the favour could be harmed for storing for this time period?

  40. Ryan says:

    Hi Jim,

    I take it CFL globes would have a negative impact on whisky, currently have my collection in a glass cabinet which can be lit with a CFL light. Should I avoid switching the light on, any idea how detrimental this could be?

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