Does Alcohol Expire

I never asked the question, “Does alcohol expire?” until my husband and I opened a bottle of champagne left over from our wedding. This was on our five-year anniversary, and we thought we’d toast to five years of marriage.

Instead, we ended up pouring that very expensive bottle of champagne down the drain. Why?

Not only had it expired (though there was no expiration date on the bottle), but it had gone bad. Like it smelled and tasted bad. Blech.

Rose Wine Glass and Bottle Close Up

Does alcohol expire?

It seems that we’re not alone in wondering when or if different kinds of alcohol expire.

So if you’ve just purchased a bottle of vodka (or whiskey or wine or whatever), you may wonder where to stash it to keep it fresh the longest and if it will ever expire.

To be honest, I can’t even tell you where we stored that long-ago bottle of champagne. And, I’m sure, that’s part of the problem as to why it went bad on us.

Here’s everything you need to know about whether alcohol expires and how long you can enjoy it. Plus, I’ve shared tips on how to store your alcohol (the drink kind, not the rubbing alcohol kind) so you can enjoy it for as long as possible.

Where to store alcohol

First of all, it’s a good idea to have a location in your home where you keep most of your alcohol. Some choose to set up a decorative yet functional bar cart, such as Gen La Rocca of Two Cloves Kitchen.

“We live in California where basements are fairly uncommon, so we keep our spirit collection small and tailored to our tastes,” she says. “It lives on a little bar cart at the edge of the dining room that’s easily accessible but out of the way of any major foot traffic.”

Shelf or cabinet

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In my childhood home, our liquor closet was literally a closet at the end of a hallway. On the bottom shelves were all of our board games. Then, on the top shelves, my parents’ bottles of wines and spirits.

In hindsight, that may not have been the best choice for storing liquor near children’s games. But I digress.

Anyway, the one thing they got right was keeping it in a dark place. You see, while exposure to the sun won’t spoil your alcohol, the warm light does affect the temperature. As a result, this speeds up the oxidation process, changing the spirit’s taste over time.

However, some types of alcohol are better off in the fridge or freezer than at room temperature in those aforementioned bar carts or hallway closets.

How to store beer

dog wearing shirt saying in dog beers I've only had one. also sign says the same.
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Beer drinkers should store their cans and bottles properly for the fizziest, foamiest pours.

The first rule of thumb is that you should always store beer upright. This minimizes the amount of the beer’s surface area that’s exposed to the air trapped inside the bottle.

The more air contact, the faster the beer will oxidize, breaking it down and reducing freshness. Aka, it will expire faster.

Here are expiration dates for other food and drink.

Does beer expire?

Most canned and bottled beers last for about three months after the bottling date. Refrigeration helps to slow the oxidation process.

Check the ABV on the bottle–ABV stands for alcohol by volume. If it’s higher than 8 percent, it can be stored at room temperature. However, preferably you’ll store your beer in a cool place, such as a basement.

Finally, the style of beer matters somewhat, too. Thrillist details the rules for storing different types of beer, from sours to IPAs.

Bottom line: craft-brewed beers will expire faster.

How to read beer expiration dates

Unlike other food and drink that provide a “best use by” date, beer often comes with its birth date printed on the can, bottle or package. This is the day the beer rolled off the assembly line.

Sometimes that date appears just like every other date on a package–month, day and year. However, other times it might seem like a jumble of numbers. There is a logic to them.

For example, if you see 052323, then that means that the beer was produced on May 23, 2023. If you see E2323, it was produced on the same day.

That is, the letter E is the fifth letter of the alphabet. And May is the fifth month of the year.

Then, using the tip that beer stays fresh for about three months after production, you can use those codes to determine if your beer is still good or not. 

When does wine expire

wine at trader joes
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Want your wine to last the longest? Then make sure you store it at a consistent temperature.

Why? Because extreme temperature changes (either too hot or too cold) can cause both the liquid and cork to expand and contract. This leads to seepage and seepage leads to spoilage.

Ideal ways to store wine

Bottles of wine should be stored between 45°F and 65°F. Anything above 70°F can affect the flavor. On the other hand, too-cold temperatures can dry out the cork, letting oxygen into the bottle and causing oxidation.

Whether you go for a wine fridge or not likely depends on how often you drink wine. If you only like to have a few bottles on hand, you can store them at room temperature, ideally in the coldest part of your house. I would suggest you choose a basement or cellar.

“My husband moved everything from our basement and that is where our wine is stored. It is not a basement anymore but a man-made wine cellar with 5 padlocks… just in case,” says Zuzana Paar of Lowcarb-Nocarb.

In general, sparkling, rosé and white wines should be chilled before serving, and red wines should not. And once you uncork a bottle, enjoy it within a week or so for the best flavor. Unless it’s champagne, whose bubbles will fizzle out after about a day. 

Finally, according to First Leaf Wine Club, any bottle of wine with a cork should be stored on its side:

“Horizontal storage ensures that the cork stays moist, and therefore stays expanded. If the cork dries out, it will shrink, and outside air can enter the bottle and ruin the wine.”

First Leaf Wine Club

In all other situations, such as with twist-off caps, you can store wine upright.

Here is information on National Wine Day.

When vermouth, sherry and other alcohol expires

Once opened, vermouth, sherry and other alcohol should be kept in the fridge and enjoyed within a few months. Otherwise, it will expire.

Whether you’re making a negroni with sweet red vermouth or a martini, perhaps the most iconic cocktail, should especially keep their dry vermouth in the fridge.

This is due to oxidation, as oxygen enters the bottle as soon as the lid comes off.

Vermouth will keep at room temperature for a month. However, make sure you’re planning on making a lot of vermouth cocktails in a short period of time. Otherwise that alcohol will expire before you get to use it up.

Expiration dates for distilled spirits and alcohol

When unopened, common distilled spirits — brandy, vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila and gin — have an indefinite shelf life.

Once opened, though, they will lose some of their flavor and aroma over time. However, they won’t truly spoil.

This goes for the base spirits, AKA hard liquors, not their flavored counterparts, such as spiced rum or vanilla vodka. Since flavored spirits often contain sugar, they will deteriorate faster.

Distilled spirits can and should be stored at room temperature. Keeping vodka in the freezer isn’t necessary — unless you like your vodka drinks ice cold.

When do liqueurs and cordials go bad

The very ingredients that make liqueurs and cordials, like amaretto, triple sec and limoncello, so delicious are the very things that make them expire sooner.

That is, they tend to contain less alcohol, which is a preservative. On the other hand, they have more sugar and other ingredients, which tend to spoil faster.

Like distilled spirits, liqueurs can be kept at room temperature. However, they have a shorter shelf life. They do not last as long because the alcohol deteriorates the sugars.

In general, discard open bottles of liqueurs after 18 months. Also, if you see any discoloration, that’s a clear sign it is time to toss it.

Cream liqueurs

While it’s easy to think that any liquor with cream or egg in it should be refrigerated, such as Amarula or Rumchata, the storage directives for cream liqueurs vary by brand.

For example, regular Baileys Irish cream lasts two years from the bottling date, opened or unopened when stored at room temperature. Compare that with flavored versions of Baileys, which require refrigeration. You can check the use-by date, too. However, as I learned when writing about food expiration dates, sometimes these aren’t legit dates the product expires but rather suggested dates you use it by for the best freshness, if that makes any sense.

On the other hand, Tequila Rose, the strawberry cream liqueur, has a two-year shelf life when unopened. It should be refrigerated after opening and enjoyed within six months.

When in doubt, check the manufacturer’s website for when certain kinds of alcohol expire.

Zero-proof spirits

Alcohol is a preservative, so without it, non-alcoholic spirits don’t last as long.

Since they often contain extracts and flavorings that have shorter shelf lives, zero-proof spirits tend to last anywhere from three to six months.

Check the manufacturer’s website for their storage tips and expiration dates.

When do alcohol mixers expire

wine and mixers at costco horizontal
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

While not alcoholic in nature, bottles of cocktail mixers like Bloody Mary mix and sour mix often mingle with bottles of spirits, so they deserve a quick mention here.

Store-bought mixes often have preservatives in them to keep them shelf-stable. However, the label will suggest how long you have to enjoy them after you open the bottle.

Always follow the packaging’s expiration date for items containing fresh ingredients like fruit juices.

Store-bought and homemade simple syrups will last about a month in the fridge. However, if they look cloudy, it’s time to toss them out.

When to throw away alcohol that has expired

Use your common sense when it comes to deciding whether to keep a bottle or toss it. Alcohol should be enjoyed within two years. Therefore, if you know a bottle is older than that, such as that bottle of champagne from my wedding, opened some five years later, then it’s time to toss it.

“Last summer, I went to make my peach sangria for a party, but I knew my peach liqueur was old. I took a small swig, and it was awful — totally sour. I would have ruined the entire batch if I had just assumed it was still good to use,” said Amanda McGrory-Dixon of the website Burrata and Bubbles.

If you ever spy anything suspicious — mold, cloudiness or floating objects — or detect a foul odor, it’s time to pour the alcohol down the drain.

Depending on where you live, you can likely recycle plastic and glass bottles and sometimes the lids, too. Even better, because I live in Maine, I can return alcohol bottles at at Clynk redemption center at Hannaford and get 15 cents per bottle I bring back.

Tips for alcohol storage in liquor cabinet

If you are deciding whether to finish off a bottle or store a little bit for later use, it’s better to finish it off. That’s because more air in the bottle means the leftover alcohol is more likely to oxidize, which can transform the taste.

It’s also a good idea to keep tabs on what alcohol you have on hand. Keeping a paper inventory sheet works well.

But you should also keep track of when it was purchased and first opened. It’s a good idea to write it on the bottom of an unopened bottle or on a piece of tape stuck to the bottom.

“I like to tape a small piece of paper to the bottom of the bottle with the date I opened it for a reference, but nothing does the trick like a taste test first,” said McGrory-Dixon.

Or you can use a Sharpie marker and write it right on the label. I use this trick for open bottles of salsa and tomato sauce, too. I’ll mark on the label or the top the date I first opened it. That way when I go to reach for it in the future, I’ll know if it’s been too long since I last used it. And then I will likely just throw it away.

This might go without saying, but never let alcohol sit in a hot car. Get it inside and stored in the proper temperature as soon as you can. Also, avoid direct sunlight. And when it comes to wine, never store the bottle upright. Wine is kept on its side to keep the cork moist. If you stand an unopened bottle up, then the cork can dry out. Once that happens, air can get in and your wine will start to turn.

Fridge or no fridge?

To sum things up, beer, wine and wine-based spirits like vermouth should be stored in the fridge.

Everything else can be stored at room temperature — but in a cool, dark place. And if it contains cream, refrigerate.

When in doubt, check with the manufacturer. And when in doubt if the alcohol has expired, throw it out.

Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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