The reality is that when it comes to whether alcohol can expire, it depends on what kind of booze you’re talking about. Of course, certain kinds of liquor can last for decades and may taste even more glorious over time; after all, people say “aging like a fine wine” for a reason. Other types of alcohol, however, can turn so nasty you may decide that chasing it with sour milk is preferable, particularly if it’s been opened for a while or not stored correctly.
So how long does wine last?
A bottle of vintage Bordeaux wine from 1961 doesn’t cost an arm and a leg because it tastes awful, and you don’t try to impress your date by asking the waiter for their “youngest” bottle of vino. Not only can most wines stay “fresh” for years on end but, in fact, many of them taste better the older they get.
That said, certain types of wine – usually cheaper ones – peak within a few years of being produced, and even some high quality bottles may begin to lose their zest after a few decades. If you decide to get fancy and spend a few hundred dollars on a nice bottle of wine, it’s a good idea to do some research and see when the experts recommend it should be enjoyed.
All of this, however, depends on whether the wine is stored properly and at the right temperature. In other words, people didn’t invent wine cellars just because they wanted to hide their stash from relatives, although that may have been part of it…
Wine cellars are typically dark and cool places, which is where a delicious bottle of red or white should be stored. Wine should also be kept lying horizontally, so that the amazing liquid inside is touching the cork at all times. If a cork gets dry then there’s a chance it will develop holes and wine-spoiling air could leak in. Or, if you keep your wine out in the blazing hot sun, don’t be surprised if it tastes like garbage when you open it.
Once a bottle of wine has been opened, however, the expiration clock starts working overtime. Wines don’t stand up well to the process of oxidization, and even if you do your damndest to stuff the cork back in or keep it in the fridge, it will only be good for a few days.
Does beer go bad?
Next time you go into a pub, ask the bartender for his “finest and oldest bottle of beer” and see what kind of puzzled response you get. In other words, unlike wine, beers are not meant to sit downstairs for years on end collecting dust. Unless you’re a hoarder and enjoy collecting unopened, but un-drinkable, beer of course.
Most beers are at their peak in terms of deliciousness around six to eight weeks after they’re produced. After that, they start to go stale and begin losing their flavor. While you probably won’t get viciously ill from drinking a bottle of beer that’s six or seven months old, you also won’t enjoy the experience very much. Lots of beers have expiration dates listed on them, although it may take ten minutes or longer to decipher what they say.
Beers that have high alcohol content, like in the 9% range and above, retain their freshness longer and some may even taste better after a few months. But, make no mistake about it, beer is not the kind of thing you put in a time capsule and crack open at your silver wedding anniversary.
What about the hard stuff?
If you’ve ever been to someone’s place and they have a fully stocked bar with all the hard liquor trimmings, it doesn’t necessarily mean they drink booze like water or host parties nightly. Due to the fact that liquors like scotch, bourbon, and vodka are so high in alcoholic content, their shelf life is extremely long. As in, you could receive a bottle of whiskey you don’t want for Christmas–for some crazy reason–and re-gift it seven years later.
Even if a bottle of the hard stuff has been opened, it can sit on your shelf for months before it starts to go south, taste wise. Liquor aficionados may be able to tell if a delicious bottle of scotch has been open for say half-a-year or so, but casual drinkers will be none the wiser.
If you’re not planning on cracking that bottle of vodka or bourbon you were given for winning “employee of the month”, don’t store it horizontally. Unlike wine, most hard liquor bottles keep better if the booze isn’t touching the cap.