Does Alcohol Go Bad? Here’s how long open bottles last

Does Alcohol Go Bad? Here’s how long open bottles last

Each and every one of us has a coveted bottle of whisky, tequila or cognac worth much more than we’d like to admit. Naturally, the instinct is to save it and place it on a high shelf, limiting interactions to gazing lovingly at it and breaking it out for extra-special occasions.

However, even though spirits over 40% ABV are theoretically shelf stable and do not have an expiration date, sadly, this does not mean the flavor lasts forever. The clock on every bottle’s mortality starts ticking once opened. And when it does, the most common effect is the loss of color, flavor, or both.

How air affects opened bottles spirits 

Spirits over 40% ABV (whisky, vodka, tequila, gin, etc) in a properly sealed bottle will be pretty much taste exactly the same whether you drink it today or 100 years from now. Unlike wine, which continues to mature after bottling, even an aged spirit stops changing after it is taken from its wood barrel and put in a glass bottle. But once you do open that bottle, oxygen dives on in and starts transforming your precious liquid. While the initial stages of this transformation can be positive, eventually the oxidation process will rob you of flavor. Here’s a guideline for the lifetime of each spirit and also an antidote to aging.


Whisky’s high alcohol and low sugar content means it’s fairly shelf-stable—but it will perceptibly change after 12 – 18 months from opening. “Change” is a spectrum, though —whisky will never spoil, per se— you can drink a glass of opened whisky 20 years from now and it will not make you sick. However, not only will oxygen start oxidizing the flavor (think of a cut apple after a few hours out on your kitchen table) but also, the alcohol content will decrease over time from evaporation.


Vodka will last longer after opening than whisky—up to several years, maybe even 10. This is because there are far less flavors to start with. The process is the same, however, and your vodka may start to taste different after just a few years, and will slowly lose its alcoholic power, as well. Just like whisky, it will never actually “spoil,” but if you don’t consume it within a few years, your drinking experience will definitely degrade. And again, flavored vodkas will turn much more quickly due to the likely higher sugar content.


Tequila will last about one year after opening before it starts to taste bad. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mezcal or Tequila, the time frame is about the same. It won’t kill you, but it won’t taste right—and once you notice the taste profile turning, it’s a downward slide from there.


Gin has an even shorter runway once opened—it will taste significantly worse about 8 months after you open it. Just like other spirits, it won’t necessarily go bad in the sense of being dangerous to drink, it just won’t be the pleasant experience you’re hoping for.

Delaying Tactics

So, your bottle will absolutely turn on you eventually. That does not mean there’s nothing you can do to buy time once you open your bottle?

Thanks to Louis Pasteur, we now understand that oxygen is the culprit to all changes in food and drinks once they are opened. Naturally, the simplest solution is to minimize or eliminate the exposure of your spirits to oxygen.

Which is where products like the Winesave come in. As the names indicate, it is mostly used for wine since the decay in wine is far more rapid than spirits. However, the same principles apply. Winesave is canister that has 100% argon - an all-natural gas that is food safe, tasteless, odorless, colorless and most importantly, heavier than air.  Simply spray for one second into an opened bottle and it creates a perfectly natural layer above your liquid and significantly slows down the deterioration.

It’s time to open your liquor cabinet; reorganize, replenish and spray but also have that extra glass of something nice tonight.