Most people say liquor doesn’t have a shelf life, but that’s not totally true.
Yes—many typical spirits are shelf stable until the end of time. So that dusty bottle of scotch you break out only for the holidays will be fine until your son is of age. Just make sure the seal is sound. I like to swap out original corks for artificial corks so less evaporates over time.
However, spirits that have a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) can’t just sit out on a shelf—they need to be refrigerated. For anything less than 25% ABV—vermouth, sake, and some liqueurs and cordials—you’ve got to keep it cool after opening. If you’re in doubt, check the label—ABV can vary by drink and by brand. Once in the fridge, these drinks keep for up to six months.
Also, always check the flavor of liquor you’ve had for a while. Once exposed to oxygen, the taste will gradually change—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, but it’ll never be the same as when first opened.
Daniel Sheel is the beverage director at Gather Restaurant in Berkely, CA
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