How long can I keep spirits in my cabinet?
Happily for spirit lovers, unopened bottles of stable, unsweetened spirits such as vodka, cognac, whisky, rum, gin and tequila can be kept indefinitely without any significant changes, unlike wines which continue to evolve in the bottle over time. As soon as the seal is broken however, a chain of events begins to slowly rob your favourite tipple of its character and freshness. This can take quite a long time in some cases, but less in others. In order to keep your bottles in the best shape possible, simply follow these golden rules.
The enemies: air, heat & sun
Air is public enemy number one for spirits. The moment you open the bottle and expose the drink to the elements, two things start to happen: evaporation and oxidation.
Alcohol evaporates at a low temperature so will disappear relatively quickly once in contact with the air. As it does so, the strength of the spirit naturally decreases, taking some of its character with it. Avoid this as much as possible by limiting the contact the spirit has with air and storing bottles upright, so that there is less surface area of the liquid left exposed. It stands to reason then that the emptier the bottle becomes, the more quickly the remaining spirit will age as there is more air present in the bottle.
Oxidation is a natural, chemical reaction that takes place when a spirit is exposed to oxygen. With oxygen exposure, flavour compounds in the spirit gradually disintegrate and disappear, though this can take several months or even years for the taster to truly notice. Tip: always try to use the original stopper or cap to ensure the best seal possible and make sure your bottle is upright, rather than laying down. In contact with the cork, the liquid's high alcohol content may damage the cork.
Sunlight is no friend of spirits either; the ultra-violet rays break down organic compounds such as alcohol and some flavourings. This is why some spirits come in dark coloured bottles; to block out the harmful UV rays. Too warm a temperature can also damage the quality and balance of spirits.
The conclusion? Seal tightly and store all your spirits in a cool, dark place away from radiators, other heat sources and windows. A cellar is ideal, if you have one.