Today’s whiskey drinker has more than a couple of bottles of whiskey in their cabinet at home. In fact, it is common for a collector to have dozens of bottles. The collector buys the new releases, as well as, the standard “every day pours” of their favorite brands. Bourbons, Ryes, Tennessee whiskey, Scotch, Irish, Japanese whiskeys are being collected as people want to explore the differences in the world of whiskey. The question I am often asked is “How do I take care of this collection?” and “How long will the whiskey stay good after it is opened?”
I will start by answering the second question first. Whiskey will stay good for several months, maybe even years, once it is opened. It all depends upon the fill level of the bottle and the condition under which it is stored. The air in the bottle will start to oxidize the whiskey, so the lower the fill level, the quicker this will happen. I always advise people that once the bottle gets below the halfway point, to finish it.
However, there are ways to prolong the life of the whiskey even when the fill level is low. There are many people who will decant the whiskey into a smaller bottle to reduce the amount of air in the bottle. The problem with that is the original bottle is not used and people like to pull out their rare whiskey to pour and impress friends and it is less impressive to pour from an unlabeled 500ml than to pour from the original bottle of Geo. T. Stagg or other rare whiskeys.
There is a way to keep the original bottle and reduce the air contact in the bottle – It is an old trick I learned from a brandy maker. Take glass marbles and place them in the bottle after each pour to bring the fill level back up and reduce the air in the bottle. It works, and it can be fun to tell friends “I am pouring you 4 marbles worth today.”
The next thing to know is that you never store whiskey bottles on their side. Wine bottles are stored on their side to keep the cork wet so the cork does not dry out, crack and create a bad seal. Whiskey, however, should not be stored on the side. The higher alcohol content will react with the cork, giving the whiskey a cork flavor as it dissolves the cork. It is not a good flavor and should be avoided at all costs. Keep the bottles upright. The cork may dry out and break, but it is better to replace a cork than to drink whiskey with cork taint.
The sun is also the enemy of whiskey. Light will break down some compounds in the whiskey, giving it an off-flavor. Store your bottles out of the direct sunlight. In a cabinet with wood doors is best, but on a shelf without direct sunlight is fine. Storing the bottle on a window ledge or on a shelf across from a window is not good. Now, this is for long term storage, not short term. If your everyday pour is in the sunlight, but you replace that bottle every week or so, then that is fine. It takes months in the sunlight to hurt the whiskey, but some people will keep a bottle around for years as they nurse the liquid from it only on special occasions. The sunlight can also cause cosmetic damage to the label. Light will cause colors to fade on the labels of your prized bottles.
It is also a good idea to avoid extreme heat. Store the bottles somewhere where the temperature remains fairly cool. Heat can cause corks to pop off as the liquid expands and pressure builds in the bottle. Even if the cork does not pop all the way off, it can loosen the cork and allow more air into the bottle.
Finally, you should consider the hazards of keeping a large collection of flammable liquid in your house. Make sure there is a smoke detector and a fire extinguisher in the room that is the storage area for your collection. Make sure the extinguisher is rated for flammable liquids. It is always a good idea to be prepared for worst-case scenarios.
Collecting whiskey is a growing hobby. With the right preparations, rare bottles of whiskey can be enjoyed for years. However, the wrong care of the bottles can shorten that time considerably. Take the time and effort to do it right.