Don’t Waste a Drop! Your Ultimate Guide to Alcohol Expiration
March 01, 2023 by Anna-Bet Stemmet
Does alcohol expire? A deceptively complex question to answer, that one! Happily, you’ve come to the right place. See, alcohol waste is a proper swear word in these hallowed cocktail halls, so we know exactly how long liquor is good for, what makes liquor go bad, and what you can do to ensure you don’t waste a drop.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how to store opened vodka, whether it’s cool to keep all kinds of alcohol in the freezer, or if you can use expired liquor to make a super flaky pie crust (spoiler alert – you can!), hang on to your hat and come along for the ride.
Here is The Mixer UK’s ultimate guide to alcohol expiration and how to get the best out of every bottle.
Think twice about alcohol waste
As the cost-of-living crisis continues to churn out increasingly angsty news headlines, the spotlight has fallen squarely on food waste once more.
Statistics from the United States show that up to one-third of all purchased food goes to waste. In the UK, it is estimated that around 9.5 million tonnes of food go to waste every single year, of which 11% is liquid waste. That’s right – statistics show that up to £1.4 billion of drink is disposed of by UK households each year.
Aside from all the missed cocktail opportunities, waste like this is a sad situation along the entire supply chain.
See, when alcohol goes bad, it has a significant environmental effect, just like landfilled waste. This is because the growing, harvesting, transporting, and processing all have a carbon cost. The labour, water, chemicals, and energy that went into producing, storing, and preparing alcohol are wasted too.
So, let’s see how we can keep that from happening, shall we? It all starts with understanding alcohol expiration and shelf life.
Understanding alcohol expiration
Let’s answer the real burning question straight off the bat – yes, alcohol can go bad; liquor does expire. However, alcohol shelf life is not the same for every type of drink, and the shelf life of liquor can be extended in a variety of ways.
Understanding alcohol expiration is important because it ensures quality, safety, and economic efficiency in producing and enjoying alcoholic beverages, such as tasty cocktails.
For one thing, the quality of an opened bottle of alcohol declines over time, impacting the taste and overall drinking experience. In some cases, alcohol can also become unsafe to drink after a certain period due to the growth of harmful bacteria or other contaminants – although this is pretty rare.
Bars, restaurants, and other industries that offer alcohol for sale also have regulatory requirements for tracking and documenting the shelf life of liquor to ensure that their clientele enjoys drinks that are both safe and delicious.
Read next: Our Fool-Proof BYOB Party Planning Guide
Alcohol shelf life
Asking how long liquor lasts is like asking about the length of a piece of string. Liquor does expire, but what is true for one bottle of alcohol is not necessarily true for another.
There are quite a few factors that play a role in the shelf life of different kinds of drinks. This includes alcohol type, alcohol content, additives, and packaging, as well as alcohol storage.
Different types of alcohol have varying shelf lives. For example, spirits such as whiskey and rum can last indefinitely if stored properly and left unopened, while beer and wine typically have a shorter shelf life.
Once a bottle is opened, the shelf life immediately takes a bit of a nosedive because the contents come into contact with oxygen, which eventually makes it go bad. Here is a quick summary of the approximate shelf life of popular types of alcohol once the first drink has been poured:
- Sparkling wine: 1 day (unless you use a proper sparkling wine stopper)
- Red & white wine: 3 – 5 days
- Vermouth: 2 – 3 months
- Aperol: 3 months
- Irish cream liqueur: 6 months (depending on how full the bottle is)
- Campari: 12 months
- Rum: 6 months (depending on how full the bottle is)
- Whiskey: 6 months – 2 years (depending on how full the bottle is)
- Brandy: 1 – 2 years (depending on how full the bottle is)
- Tequila: 1 – 2 years (depending on how full the bottle is)
- Vodka: 10 – 20 years
- Gin: 10 – 20 years
Looking at the list above, it’s easy to see that a higher alcohol content equals a longer shelf life. This is because alcohol has preservative properties that can help prevent spoilage and the growth of harmful bacteria.
Additives & packaging
The type of packaging can also impact the shelf life of alcohol. For example, wine stored in bottles with corks can spoil more quickly than wine stored in screw-top bottles or boxes, since cork is more porous.
Some kinds of alcohol may contain additives such as sugars, flavours, or preservatives that can impact the shelf life. It is essential to read labels and follow storage instructions to ensure the product remains safe to consume.
Alcohol storage tips
Proper storage is critical for maintaining the quality and safety of alcohol. Exposure to heat, light, and air can all accelerate the deterioration of alcohol, so it is important to store alcohol in a cool, dark place with airtight seals.
Here is our quick crash course on how to store liquor like a pro so you won’t waste a drop:
Treat your booze like a tricksy troll
Exposure to heat and direct sunlight can accelerate the deterioration of alcohol by causing chemical reactions that can impact the flavor and colour of the alcohol, so it’s best to treat it like a troll. Store it in a cool, dark place, such as a cellar, closet, or liquor cabinet.
Does alcohol need to be refrigerated? Good question.
Some types of alcohol, such as vermouth, can benefit from being refrigerated, while others, such as vodka or gin, can be stored in the freezer. Freezing can help slow down chemical reactions and extend the shelf life of the alcohol.
TOP TIP: Alcohol can absorb strong odors, so it is important to store it away from any strong-smelling items. I.e. The best place for your SKYY Vodka is not next to the garlic in your pantry…
Keep things on an even keel
Storing bottles of liquor upright helps to prevent leaking and keeps any sediment from settling on the bottom. Extreme temperature changes can impact the quality of alcohol, so it is important to store it in a place with a stable temperature.
Unopened bottles can last for ages, but once the bottle has been opened, it’s important to use the original lid or cork to stopper it (unless it’s sparkling wine, Champagne, or Prosecco) and to seal it as tightly as possible. This prevents oxygen from entering and causing the alcohol to oxidise.
How to tell if booze has gone bad
Sometimes life happens, and a bottle of booze will turn on you. There are a few tell-tale signs that will alert you once it has. Let’s break it down into look, smell, and taste.
- Look: If the colour of the alcohol has changed significantly from its original colour, this may be a sign that the alcohol has gone bad. A cloudy or hazy appearance may indicate that it has been contaminated by bacteria or other microorganisms, and visible particles or sediment can be a sign of spoilage as well.
- Smell: If alcohol has a foul or unpleasant smell, this may indicate that it’s gone bad. The smell may be musty, sour, or remind you of vinegar.
- Taste: If the alcohol tastes different from what you expect or has a sour or vinegar-like taste, this may indicate that it has gone bad.
Important: If you observe any of these signs, it is best to dispose of the alcohol rather than consume it.
Scroll down for a few tips on using about-to-turn alcohol before it goes completely wonky.
Make every drop count!
Once you’ve done everything you could to ensure that your bottle enjoys the longest shelf life possible, the time will nevertheless come that it will be headed towards its past-prime date. This is when you need to get a little creative. Here are a few fun and inspiring ways to use alcohol that has inched past its best-before:
- Expired red wine makes a great base for marinades.
- White wine is perfectly good for cooking months after it stops being fit for sipping. Use it in pastas and fish dishes.
- Past-prime brandy can be used in Christmas pudding and brandy butter.
- Expired Irish cream liqueur (if still okay to the taste) can be frozen to be added to frozen cocktails for a creamy finish.
- Past-prime Campari can be used to make roasted Campari tomatoes.
- Expired vermouth can be used as a flavour booster in soups or turned into vinegar.
- Expired vodka van be used in pastry dough instead of water for a flakier crust.
- You can add expired gin to preserves like savoury pickles and sweet jams for a deeper flavour.
- Use expired whiskey to make a gorgeous Irish apple tart!
- Expired tequila adds a nice kick to glazes, sauces, and salad dressings.
- Past-prime Aperol can be used to make an Aperol Spritz Cake.
- Expired white rum can be used to make homemade vanilla extract.