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