Let’s say you’ve got yourself a nice little whiskey collection. You have your bourbon, rye, Scotch, and a bottle of Japanese whisky someone gifted you for your birthday.
It might not be the sort of assortment that merits an insurance policy. (Or maybe it is! La di da!) Regardless, you want to keep it in good condition. How, then, should you store your whiskey?
The short answer is don’t store it. Drink it all immediately and with great relish. Problem solved!
If that’s not an option, consider the five factors that can affect whiskey — light, oxygen, temperature, position, and time — and make your storage decisions accordingly.
According to the Scotch Whisky Association, direct sunlight is the only thing that can degrade a bottle of whiskey. Some drinkers believe that prolonged light exposure can fade the color of brown spirits and result in “off” flavors like plastic or rubber. Quelle horreur!
“It’s debatable whether light degrades whiskey,” counters Aaron Goldfarb, author of the book “Whiskey Hacks” and a VinePair columnist. “A bigger issue for whiskey would be the sunlight overheating the bottle and causing evaporation.”
It’s an excellent point. While UV rays might not immediately sour a great bottle of whiskey, they most certainly will speed up the evaporation process.
Want to play it safe? Store your favorite bottles in a shaded liquor cabinet or cellar, if you’ve got one. Keep them out of direct and prolonged sunlight. And drink them sooner rather than later.
Oxygen is an integral part of the whiskey-distilling process, helping the spirit develop “floral aromas and exotic fruit notes,” Gordon Motion, Erdington’s master blender, tells the Drinks Report.
However, by the time bottled whiskey hits your home bar, it has already reached peak maturity. Now, prolonged exposure to oxygen can only hurt your spirit.
If your bottle of whiskey is less than half full, conventional wisdom used to be to transfer it to a much smaller container, such as a whiskey decanter, so less liquid is exposed to less air. Modern drinkers should beware, though, Goldfarb says, because many commercial whiskey decanters contain lead.
“As you can probably guess, that ain’t a good thing; high-proof booze can cause the lead to start leaching into the whiskey you drink,” he says.
Thankfully, lead-free whiskey decanters are available. Check the label before switching your whiskey (or anything you’re going to consume) to another vessel.
It’s absolutely cool to keep whiskey and other distilled spirits like gin, rum, tequila, and vodka at room temperature. Maintaining a cool, consistent climate is more important than the number on your thermostat.
“Somewhere around 55 degrees is perfect but the cool and constant aspect is key,” Rob McCaughey, who works with spirits and sake in the Americas at Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), says.
The freezer, with its extreme temperature shifts and flavor-masking chill, is no place for your favorite bottle. “Whiskey is all about the nuances of flavor and these become muted if it is too cold,” McCaughey says. “It seems counterintuitive to take something that has layers of depth and character, and then chill it to the point of these becoming indiscernible.”
Storing wine on its side can help protect it from oxygen exposure, but whiskey is best left standing tall. Spirits are more alcoholic than wine — at leaast 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), per TTB regulation, versus wines’ 12.5 to 14.5 percent ABV. If that boozy liquid stays in continuous contact with a crumbly cork, the latter will degrade relatively quickly. To keep your whiskey fresh and debris-free, store it upright.
Whiskey has no innate tannins and is highly alcoholic, so it does not “age” in its bottle like wine. “If you keep a 12 year old bottle for 100 years, it will always remain a 12 year old whisky,” writes the Scotch Whisky Association.
In other words, “saving” an especially prized whiskey might work for those who love delaying their gratification, but it does no service to what’s in the bottle. The best time to drink your best bottle of whiskey is probably right now.