Monday, September 21, 2015
Can Whiskey 'Go Bad'?
Does whiskey ever 'go bad'? It is a commonly asked question and people usually don't get a satisfactory answer.
First, whiskey in the bottle is very sturdy stuff. It will remain unchanged indefinitely. It has only a few enemies.
'Go bad' usually means 'spoiling,' as in the result of some kind of unpleasant bacterial activity changing some component of the product into something else. Milk becomes sour. Meat becomes rancid. Fruit becomes mush. That doesn't happen with high proof spirits like whiskey because nothing can live in that much alcohol.
So no, whiskey can't 'go bad' in that sense. What whiskey can do is absorb too much oxygen, which makes it taste like somebody added way too much vanilla. This happens most often when someone leaves a small amount in the bottle for a long period of time, and can be aggravated if the cork or cap isn't well seated.
The best solution is drink the whiskey. Don't leave that last quaff for a special occasion. Just drink it.
The best alternative is to transfer the remainder to a bottle appropriately sized.
Under some rare conditions you can get unbalanced evaporation, where some or all of the alcohol goes away leaving a very unpleasant-tasting brown water. An inadequate seal is always the culprit here, aggravated by high temperature. This is why you don't want long exposure to direct sunlight. Alcohol is volatile. We think of that as meaning prone to catching fire, but it actually means prone to becoming a vapor.
Some people think the solution is to store bottles on their side to keep the cork moist, like you do with wine. This is a TERRIBLE idea with whiskey. High proof alcohol is hard on corks and dissolved cork is hard on the flavor of the beverage so do not store bottles on their side, or upside down, under any circumstances.
Some people will suggest that you wrap the bottle tops with paraffin tape. Some will recommend replacing whiskey when your pour it with marbles, to keep the fill level high. This is a bit too fussy for most people and it really isn't necessary. Just drink the whiskey in due course. That's what it's there for.