How Long Will an Opened Bottle of Whisky Stay Good?

Credit: morberg

Credit: morberg

1-2 years.

If it’s sealed and kept in the right conditions, it could (theoretically) last forever. In fact, famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton abandoned an Antarctic expedition in 1907. That expedition included several bottles of Mackinlay’s and three were discovered over a hundred years later after sitting in -30 degrees Celsius. They were recovered (and replicas were made) so if you can keep it at -30 Celsius, presumably it would last over a hundred years!

While I wouldn’t try it, the key to keeping your whisky safe is to avoid light, temperature, and air (oxygen specifically).

Light is not good for any spirit, which is why so many beers are bottled in brown or green bottles, so you want to keep it out of the light whenever possible. If you have a dark room, that generally will suffice, but a cupboard or cabinet is best. You want to avoid leaving it in direct sunlight. Ultraviolet light destroys tannins, which aren’t present in a high quantity in whisky but are still there (they actually come from the cask).

Temperature should be cool though short periods in high temperatures will not severely impact the whisky. Anything from cellar temperature (45-65 degrees F, 7-18 degrees C) to room temperature (70 degrees F, 21 degrees C) will be fine for your scotch.

Air ends up being your biggest enemy. So we have two things to consider with respect to air. First, when storing whisky, always store it standing up. The cork can dry out, which is why experts recommend storing wine on its side, but the high alcohol content of whisky can eat away at the cork. The cork can also impart unpleasant and undesirable flavors into the whisky, obviously bad, and also allow more air in during storage.

Second, most experts agree that if you have less than half the bottle left, you should finish it within 1-2 years. If you have a quarter left, finish it within 3-4 months. The oxygen in the air oxidizes the whisky, which can impact the flavor.

Alternatively, you can always use wine preservers like Private Preserve. Wine preservers are essentially compressed air without the oxygen. Private Preserve is nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and argon – all of which will not oxidize your whisky. Personally, I say finish it.

If you want some help, give me a call. 🙂

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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60 Responses to How Long Will an Opened Bottle of Whisky Stay Good?

  1. The Hammer says:

    I believe your saying a liquor like Johnny walker black label will go bad after just 1 or 2 years? I’ve been reading on this subject and get different opinions, some people say it’s a opened bottle last for a long time,( years), some say forever. I have a bottle 1/2 full, tightly capped, stored at room temp in medium light, about 7-8 years old. Can someone please tell me if I should dispose of it or can I still drink it?

    • dr fun says:

      I’ve got a bottle that I sip now and again, dam thing’s well over a decade old and running about 2/3 empty. Tastes more like delicious alcohol candy every sip. I guess the only way to know if yours is still good is for you to take a sip or two.

    • R mck says:

      I would fear the fuel from the fire tainting (or even poisoning) the whiskey. The fire creates a vacuum (same thing cupping; glass cups on the body). So you get Less air.

  2. newcollector says:

    I’ve also heard using a long BBQ lighter can help with storing. I was told to light the lighter and put in to the bottle past the neck (only if bottle is half full or less). The oxygen and fumes will quickly flame out then quickly cap. I tried on a cheap open bottle and was able to not burn down the house. The cork was difficult to remove later on when opening. A vacuum was formed inside. I don’t know if the whiskey was affected. Its still cheap and tastes ehhh. Anyone else heard of this, or tried this?

    • Jim says:

      I’m not a fan of that idea, if you want to remove it then I’d just get one of those wine preserver pumps and do it that way. I realize it works but when you light the air inside, do you leave behind a residue of particulates in the air you burned up?

    • Ed says:

      Googled this article. As for storing opened bottles, instead of burning out the oxygen (you risk leaving propane gas in the bottle), get a bottle of Private Preserve (Amazon). It’ll leave a layer of carbon dioxide (which is heavier than oxygen) in the bottle separating the alcohol from the oxygen, thereby minimizing the effects of oxidation.

  3. Roger Rowley says:

    I have a bottle of whisky bought in Scotland during my honeymoon 29 years ago called THE CLAYMORE and I think it’s just as good now as when I first bought it in 1984

  4. Tony Wessling says:

    Come on people.
    How can you have a bottle of Scotch open for so long without drinking it.?
    Even cheap Scotch is good stuff. 🙂
    Cheers.

  5. Doug says:

    While cleaning out my mother’s home after her move, I ran across an old Early Times Bicentennial Whisky Bottle that my dad has had stored since ’76 – still in the semi-sealed (wire twist tie) bag from the liquor store ($6.99!). I noticed that the decorative lid w/cork had broken off but the cork in the neck appeared intact. By the time I got the bottle home, I noticed that the cork in the neck was damp and there was actually a bit of whiskey in an indentation in it. I am going to assume that my dad always stored it upright and that it had just fallen over on the car ride home, but I have read in several places now about whiskey damaging corks and the corks leaving a bad taste in the whiskey. Also, if the whiskey is able to seep through the cork, how much air has gotten through the to whiskey over the years? Long story, I know, but, not being much of a connoisseur (or even drinker), I have to wonder if the whiskey inside is even worth keeping. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Jim says:

      Hmmm it sounds like there are a lot of variables here, all of the things you’ve read are true. It can have an impact over the course of 40 years but the only real way to find out is to open it up and taste it. I know nothing about it but given the sticker price of $6.99, I’d be shocked if it had value but it just might… you never know what becomes collectible. 🙂

  6. O'Cerbil says:

    My grandfather bought a bottle of Famous Grouse in the 70’s. It was more than 3/4 full when I found it in 2011. My brother and I sampled it. It was delicious. I’ve never had smoother whisky or whiskey. We both thought it was more intoxicating than other Scotch we have had. I know they say it won’t age in the bottle or improve over time and I believe that but my experience says otherwise. Anyone have a similar experience?

    • Eric says:

      I assume it is because alcohol vaporizes faster than water. Therefore, the percentage of alcohol slightly decreased which resulted in a smoother taste.

  7. kienny says:

    Have a gallon bottle of Dewar’s white label that has about .5 gal. left, it had been opened for about 40 years and it was very very rough. I think I’ll just toss it.

  8. Jenn says:

    I have a bottle of White Label that has been sitting undisturbed in a dark area in my cellar for over a decade. The cap is secure and there are no visible signs of damage. My basement is constantly cooler than 70 deg F with no huge temp fluctuations. Any thoughts about how dangerous it would be to serve it? Thanks much!

  9. Lamech says:

    Hi my story. I recently located a bottle of Chivas Regal that had gone missing after the last new years eve party. It was in a shady part of the backyard so I’m pretty sure someone tried sneaking it off but had failed. The bottle was a gift and it was opened in 2007 but I had never taken a sip after that. After locating it outdoors after this much time I’m wondering if it’s still safe to drink.

    • Jim says:

      It’ll be safe, it might be different having been outside in the sun (has it been hot?). I wouldn’t be worried about safety though.

  10. Jordan says:

    Hi Jim – I was gifted a decanter that does not have a good stopper and will definitely let air in (the stopper is a “ball” that is placed on top of/into the bottle)

    I love the look and would like to use it.

    What is the effect of air getting in? I understand oxidation, but how will that effect the whiskey? How long does it take? Will the whiskey smell and taste worse?

  11. mark says:

    Whats wrong with you people- drink the bloody stuff! If a bottle of whiskey is lasting you more than a week you either have serious issues with alcohol and should just avoid it or no friends!

  12. Arms valerio says:

    Hi, I have a question about martini torino in our house. My dad already open it and didn’t finish , and we think that its already open 1 year ago, is still safe to drink it?

  13. Dale Boe says:

    I bought 4 bottles of the shackelton scotch last year and one to my brother in law in Thailand and stashed the rest. I might bring 1 more this year for Chinese New Year. The others will stay in storage until the right time.

  14. Emma says:

    I have a Chivas Regal, aged 12 years of which I have been saving unopened for 2 years.

    I have been told whisky is ideal for tooth ache as it numbs it. I am just not sure whether to open it as I was hoping to save it til Christmas at least however since reading the above I am no longer concerned so thank you for this post.

  15. margaret fink says:

    I have a bottle of Ambassador Deluxe Scotch that is at least 52 years old. It was distilled and bottled by Taylor & Ferguson Ltd, Scotland. I can’t find any info on the company, but I just want to know if the scotch is stilll good to drink. It has been stored in kitchen pantry’s in the very back. Can you tell me?

  16. Leslie Franklin says:

    My boyfriend had an opened Chivas Regal in his cupboard that he said was opened 10 years ago. It’s a quarter full. Is it safe to drink?

  17. dan. says:

    Ifound about third of a bottle of Wisers Oldest bought in 1959 and one bought in 1971 about three quaters full stored in a cabnet not in the cellar of a house. Is this safe to drink

  18. Ron Gobell says:

    I have a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label Whisky that I won at a Golf Tournament in 1996, still in its box. Been standing upright under my stairs in the dark, still sealed. Reading the comments above it should still be drinkable. How can I tell how old it actually is? It has a serial number on the box.

  19. pash says:

    hi I was having one full bottle of Black dog whisky opened two years back unfinished till today, can it be safe to use now ?

  20. Crabby Old Guy says:

    “Is it safe to drink?” It’s whiskey, not a quart of unpasteurized milk! Spirits have been used to disinfect & preserve items since antiquity. Look up “Nelson’s blood.”
    Sheeeesh.

  21. Toby says:

    It would help if you clarified what you mean by Whisky “staying good”.

    It’s clear from reading these comments that a lot of people are under the impression they might get poisoned from drinking old opened whisky. Old whisky is not going to poison you but it’s sure to have lost some of its original color/flavor/personality. The amount lost depends on what its been exposed to and for how long.

    Basically the longer you leave it around after opening, the higher the chance that it will not taste the way it did when it was originally bottled.

  22. Julio says:

    I have a bottle of Jack Daniels from the 1970s that was stored on it’s side and a little leaked out, do you think it’s safe to drink?

  23. Paul says:

    I have a bottle of crown royal bought in the early 80’s. It has never been opened. Thoughts?

  24. kb says:

    I found a bag of fruit the other day that I remember picking from our tree about 4 years ago. They were left in a cool place under the house. They look all dehydrated, grey and furry. Do you think they would be safe to make a nice fruit conserve with? I think they were oranges, so they might make great marmalade.

  25. lg says:

    I have an expensive bottle of whisky.. (which I don’t anticipate finishing quickly! perhaps 6-12 months?)

    – if I keep it in the original bottle, is a small/thin piece of saran wrap around the cork advised?
    – if I keep it in a glass decanter (glass stopper), is that less desirable than the original bottle?

    thank you!

  26. Bettie says:

    I have a bottle of VAT 69 scotch whiskey unopened. It’s probably 60 years old. You think it’s drinkable?

  27. Robert says:

    What if the bottle of whiskey’s been in the trunk of a car in the summer for a week after it’s been opened. Just need to know.

  28. Ash says:

    I have a 1.75 Litres Jack Daniels bottle with me since 2005. It is sealed and never opened. Is it safe to drink?

  29. Jeff Gibson says:

    During a home restoration I found a bunch of bottles in my grandparents liquor cabinet that has been sitting there for years untouched..Not sure if it was stored properly…Seagrams VO 1966 (completely sealed), 1958 canadian club (opened missing a shot or 2….1976 canadian club (completely sealed),and a 1976 canadian club with a broken cap (slightly leaking)……..what do you think…I smelled the 1958, it smells ok, but not sure….what is the worst that can happen??? prob a stupid question but can you get alcohol poisoning???

  30. Chris says:

    Someone gave me a bottle of Macallan 12 year old scotch about 10 years ago. I put it down in my basement with the neck up and forgot about it. I found it the other day and saw that the cork dried out and was loose in the neck of the bottle. What taste would I notice between this old bottle and a brand new bottle that had a good air tight cork?

  31. jeremy says:

    My uncle recently passed away and while cleaning his home, we found a gallon of black velvet, that’s at least 20 years old my grandpa thinks, it’s open…though it looks like only a few shots have been poured out of it, would it still be good?

    • Jim says:

      It’s probably still good, one try will tell you all you need to know!

      • Scott Wallen says:

        I was give an opened bottle of an eight year aged Ambassador Deluxe Scotch. 2/3 full. It has been sitting for a couple of years in my house. 86 proof 4/5 of a pint flask shaped bottle. Have heard from my cronies that scotch doesn’t go bad. The bottle is probably from the 60’s or 70’s. No way to really know. Today I had to taste it. Shot glass looking cap was tight. Smelled wonderful. Clear amber. Half a shot later… an almost immediate warming sensation in my temples and torso. Tasted very smooth.

  32. West says:

    I dont know but for me it dont last long with the original taste
    seem to oxidize very fast same as a beer does

    at 1/2 of the bottle left just the day after is less FRESH

    so yes it can keep foreever but dont expect it will be FRESH and NEst same as when you just opened the bottle

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