- More people are choosing to drink in the comfort of their own home, instead of at a bar, which means opened bottles around the house.
- Alcohol doesn’t go bad in the same way that food does.
- If you drink expired alcohol, the worst case scenario is you might get an upset stomach.
- When alcohol goes bad depends on the type of alcohol and how you store it.
According to Mintel’s April 2018 US On-Premise Alcohol Trends Market Report, 55% of the American population would rather enjoy a drink in the comfort of their own home over meeting friends for happy hour at a bar. What’s more, of those surveyed, 38% of in-home drinkers were staying by the homestead in order to “better control their alcohol intake.” But if you aren’t drinking more than one glass in one sitting, how quickly should you finish a bottle? In other words, when does alcohol go bad?
Alcohol is different than food in that it does eventually go bad just not in the same way. For example, national mixologist for Pernod Ricard, Jane Danger told INSIDER that alcohol above 40% (or 80 proof) won’t go bad in a way that will make you sick. It might just be unpalatable.
How and when alcohol goes bad ultimately depends on the type of alcohol you’re drinking
“Generally [alcohol goes bad depending on] oxidization, in which the flavour changes to being less vibrant in any distilled spirits,” the national director of craft spirits education at Palm Bay International, Diana Novak told INSIDER. When sealed, distilled spirits (think brandy, rum, gin, tequila) don’t go bad but fortified, wine-based spirits, like vermouth and sherry, “have a much shorter lifespan once opened” and can change in flavour and colour, she said.
Cream-based liqueurs are a different story. Once opened, Novak explained that although generally combined with distilled spirits, cream-based liqueurs significantly change flavour and colour and they have been opened. Additionally, there is potential for separation or curdling. “I would recommend checking them monthly to ensure that the consistency remains the same. Generally ballpark of cream liqueurs that I recommend once opened is around 9 months to 15 months” Novak said.
Then there are sugar-based liqueurs. Novak said these types of spirits can experience the same changes with colouring, flavour, and separation.
You can tell alcohol has gone bad by its colour, taste, and/or consistency
For example, vermouth, especially Rosso vermouth, which are pale, dry, and typically bitter, starts to taste like Worcestershire sauce Novak told INSIDER. Sherry, on the other hand, oxidizes when it’s gone bad, cream liquors will curdle, and sugar-based liqueurs change colour.
Unlike how you can get food poisoning or feel ill after eating something that has gone bad, alcohol that’s gone bad doesn’t have the same effect. So even if you can’t tell one way or another if a bottle you’re pouring from has expired, Novak said worst case scenario you’ll experience an intense hangover the next day. Unless you’re drinking cream-based liqueur that’s curdled; in that case, Novak told INSIDER, you’ll probably have a bit of an upset stomach after the fact.
So how long should you keep alcohol after it’s been opened?
As far as cream-based liqueurs go Novak told INSIDER that when stored properly an 18-month shelf life is as good as it’s going to get.
“It’s really just important to keep monitoring them on a monthly basis,” she said. “My personal rule of thumb is after about eight months open (if it’s around that long) I make an effort to monitor or test monthly to ensure it’s still consistent.”
Sugar-based liqueurs go south even quicker. At the one year mark, Novak said, you should be regularly checking for change as this is when oxidization and separation could start. But with something like sherry, Novak told INSIDER, you’ll start to notice a change in flavour after a week of opening. It’s not that the alcohol “goes bad,” per se. It’s more or less that the taste just goes flat.
Keep a close eye on vermouth, too. Novak explained that this kind of spirit, if made well and of higher proof, can sustain its body and flavour for up to three months after it has been opened. But, she said, sweet or dry, her rule of thumb is to regularly check on the bottle after about one and a half months of opening.
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