If you’re thinking about decluttering your food storage, you might consider tossing that old Baileys bottle or pricey Scotch.
You’ve probably heard that wine improves over time, but does this apply to other kinds of alcoholic drinks, especially after you’ve popped the cork?
This article breaks down everything you should know about how long alcohol lasts, focusing on different beverages and their safety levels.
Shelf life of various alcoholic beverages
Different alcoholic drinks like spirits, beer, and wine are produced using varying methods and components.
All of them go through a fermentation stage, where yeast turns sugar into alcohol.
Various elements can also influence how long these drinks stay good. These elements include temperature changes, light exposure, and contact with air.
Spirits like gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and rum are known to be stable on the shelf. They’re usually made from a variety of grains or plant-based materials.
To make these liquors, a base substance, known as mash, is fermented using yeast and then distilled. Some even go through multiple rounds of distillation for a more refined flavor. After that, the liquid might be aged in different types of wood barrels to give it more depth.
Once the producer bottles these spirits, they stop aging. Experts say you should drink them for the best taste within 6 to 8 months of opening.
You might not notice any taste difference for up to a year, particularly if you’re not a connoisseur.
To keep your liquor in the best condition, store it in a dark, cool spot. You can even put it in the freezer, though that’s not essential. Always store the bottles upright so the liquid doesn’t come into contact with the cap, which might corrode and alter the taste and quality.
By storing it correctly, you can prevent the liquor from evaporating and reacting with the air, extending its life.
It’s worth noting that liqueurs, sweetened spirits with added flavors like fruit or spices, have a shorter lifespan up to 6 months after opening. If your liqueur is cream-based, keeping it chilled in the fridge is best to prolong its usability.
Beer is made by brewing a cereal grain—most commonly malted barley—with water and yeast.
This combo is left to ferment, creating the natural bubbles that give beer its signature fizz.
At the end of this process, hops—the flowers from the hop plant—are added. These give beer various tastes and scents, ranging from bitter to floral and citrusy. Hops also act as a stabilizer and preservative for the beer.
If sealed, beer can last 6 to 8 months past its expiration date and even longer when kept in the fridge. Beers with a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) over 8% tend to last longer than those with a lower ABV.
Not all beers are pasteurized, a process that uses heat to kill harmful bacteria and extend shelf life. While mass-produced beers usually are, craft beers often aren’t. If your beer is unpasteurized, aim to drink it within 3 months of its bottling date, which you can usually find on the label.
On the other hand, pasteurized beers can stay fresh for up to a year after being bottled.
To maintain its quality, store beer upright in a consistently cool, dark location like your refrigerator. For the best taste and fizz, consume it within a few hours of opening.
Like its cousins, beer and spirits, wine is also made through the fermentation process, but it’s always crafted from grapes. Sometimes the grape stems and seeds are included to enrich the flavor.
Certain wines are aged in wooden barrels for months or even years to enhance their taste further. While high-quality wines may get better with time, it’s best to drink budget-friendly wines within two years of their bottling date.
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If you opt for organic wines, which often lack preservatives like sulfites, aim to consume them within 3 to 6 months after buying.
Wine is sensitive to light and temperature, so storing it in a cool, dark place is best. Unlike beer and spirits, wine bottles with corks should be stored on their side. If stored correctly, wine can remain good for several years.
Once you’ve opened a bottle, the wine starts to age more quickly due to exposure to air. To enjoy its full flavor, drink it within 3 to 7 days of uncorking and keep it chilled between servings.
Wines fortified with distilled spirits like brandy and wines in a box can last up to 28 days if stored properly after opening.
Sparkling wines lose their fizz quickly, so it’s best to drink them within a few hours of popping the cork. If you want to prolong their life, keep them chilled and use an airtight stopper, but try to finish the bottle within 1 to 3 days for best quality.
Summary: Alcoholic beverages have varying shelf lives, with liquor lasting the longest and wine and beer being less stable.
Can expired alcohol make you sick?
Drinking liquor that’s past its prime won’t actually make you sick; it just loses its flavor, typically after a year of being opened.
Stale beer won’t lead to illness either, but it might give you a stomachache. Discard beer if it lacks fizz or a frothy head when poured. You may also notice a difference in flavor or see sediment at the bottle’s bottom.
While top-notch wines may get better over time, most wines don’t fall into this category and should be drunk within a few years.
If your wine has a vinegar-like or nutty taste, it’s probably gone bad. The color may also appear brownish or darker than usual. Though it might taste unpleasant, expired wine isn’t dangerous to consume.
Wine that’s turned bad typically becomes vinegar. The high acidity of vinegar safeguards it against bacterial growth that could otherwise be harmful.
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However, excessive drinking of any alcohol—regardless of its age—can result in unwanted effects like headaches, nausea, and long-term liver damage. Stick to moderate drinking guidelines: up to one drink per day for women and two for men.
Summary: Drinking out-of-date alcohol isn’t harmful; it’s more a matter of compromised taste. A year-old liquor bottle might not taste as good, flat beer may upset your stomach, and spoiled wine generally takes on a vinegar-like or nutty flavor but is still safe to consume.
Different types of alcoholic beverages are made using various ingredients and techniques, which leads to varying shelf lives. How you store these drinks can also affect how long they stay good.
Spirits are usually the most long-lasting, while the shelf life of beer and wine depends on multiple factors.
Drinking alcohol that’s past its best-by date isn’t typically harmful.
However, drinking too much alcohol, regardless of age, can result in adverse and risky health effects. So, no matter what kind of alcohol you enjoy, always do so in moderation.