Does Alcohol Expire?

While unopened alcohol has an almost-indefinite shelf life, opened liquor does, in fact, expire. They won’t spoil in the same way that milk does, but liquors lose their flavor, coloring, and potency over time, leading to undesirable drinks for your customers. The lifespan of your alcohol bottles is going to depend on the type of liquor, its storage temperature, and light exposure. Most bottles are best if used within 6 months to 2 years after opening. As part of running a successful bar, it’s important to keep track of when liquor bottles are open so you are serving the highest quality drinks on your menu.

Click below to learn more about the shelf life of a specific type of alcohol:

Does Vodka Go Bad?

Unopened vodka does not expire. Most vodkas have hardly any additives, so they can be stored almost indefinitely in a cool, dark place. Vodka producers will usually recommend using an unopened bottle within 30 to 50 years to experience its ideal potency and flavor.

An opened unflavored bottle of vodka is shelf stable for about 10 to 20 years before the potency starts to break down with oxidation. This makes vodka a great option for well drinks. Flavored vodka has a shorter shelf life of around 3 months because the sugars in the liquid cause it to oxidize faster. Instead of using flavored vodka, pair your straight vodka with delicious flavoring syrups to customize your drink menu.

  • Unopened Vodka Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Vodka Shelf Life: 10 - 20 years; 3 months (if flavored)

Does Whiskey Go Bad?

whiskey in a sniffer glass

Regardless of the type of whiskey, an unopened bottle will not expire. After barrel-aging, whiskey is securely bottled to keep air from altering the liquid. Its high alcohol by volume (ABV) protects it from bacteria and flavor depletion if stored in a cool, dry place.

Although it is a durable spirit, an opened bottle of whiskey will start to expire within 6 months to 2 years after it is opened. The rate at which the flavors break down will depend on how much air is in the bottle. If the bottle is only half full, you can expect it to remain rather unchanged for 1 to 2 years. If it is only a quarter full or less, the flavors will break down within 6 months.

  • Unopened Whiskey Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Whiskey Shelf Life: 6 months (when 1/4 full) - 2 years (when 1/2 full)

Does Rum Go Bad?

If kept out of direct sunlight and in a cool setting, unopened rum can be stored almost indefinitely. It is considered a stable liquor with a high ABV to preserve its integrity while in storage.

Once opened, a bottle of rum should be used within 6 months to 2 years, depending on the additional flavors in the liquor. While straight rum will typically retain its flavor profile for about 2 years, the sugars and spices in a flavored rum will interact with oxygen once the bottle is opened. You may notice the color, flavor, and potency shifts within 6 months of breaking the seal on your rum bottle. Rum can even develop a vinegary smell and slightly sour taste if used too long after opening.

  • Unopened Rum Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Rum Shelf Life: 6 months - 2 years

Does Tequila Go Bad?

Tequila in a shot glass

Made from the agave plant, tequila is a stable alcohol that won’t go bad if left unopened. When stored in a cool, dark place, this Mexican liquor can maintain its flavor and strength for decades.

If you’re running a tequila tasting, it is very important to know when your bottle was opened. Opened tequila should be used within a year of opening or else the flavor profile will be altered, creating an undesirable tasting experience. Tequila that has been open for too long will develop a sour taste and smell, so it is best to check the quality before serving it to your customer.

  • Unopened Tequila Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Tequila Shelf Life: 6 months - 1 year

Does Bourbon Go Bad?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey made from corn. It is shelf-stable indefinitely as long as it remains unopened. Once opened, the speed at which bourbon breaks down will depend on the amount of liquid in the bottle. The more air in the bottle, the shorter the shelf life.

Use your open bottles of bourbon within 6 months to 2 years after breaking the seal. To help preserve its integrity, you can transfer some of the bourbon into smaller bottles to reduce its contact with oxygen and help stretch its shelf life after opening.

  • Unopened Bourbon Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Bourbon Shelf Life: 6 months - 2 years

Does Gin Go Bad?

two gin martinis

Gin is made from botanicals like juniper, coriander, and angelica. Left unopened, gin can be stored for decades without change to its complex flavor profile or ABV.

Because the flavor of gin relies heavily on its botanicals, you’ll want to use a bottle of gin within 6 months to a year after opening. Despite both being clear liquors, gin will lose its flavor more noticeably than vodka. Opened gin will lose its bold aroma and flavor profile as it oxidizes, leading to subpar martinis and tonic cocktails.

  • Unopened Gin Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Gin Shelf Life: 6 months - 1 year

Does Brandy Go Bad?

With an ABV of 35-60%, brandy remains shelf-stable for decades. Its high alcohol level keeps bacteria from growing in the liquor and protects its integrity when stored in a cool and dark environment.

Open brandy won't go bad but it will lose its potency and flavor complexity within 6 months to 2 years of the seal being broken. Because brandy aficionados look to experience the full spectrum of the liquor's aroma and flavor, you’ll want to serve newly opened brandy bottles when performing a brandy tasting. Though brandy doesn’t really expire, it can be described as “going flat” if served too long after opening.

  • Unopened Brandy Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Brandy Shelf Life: 6 months - 2 years

Do Liqueurs Go Bad?

Liqueur being poured into a clear jigger

Liqueurs and cordials are usually strong and flavorful, featuring an array of ingredients. Their 40% or higher ABV keeps them from expiring as long as they remain unopened. Once exposed to air, the additional ingredients expedite the oxidation process, limiting their shelf life.

Each liqueur is different, so adhere to the instructions on the bottle when looking for an expiration date and storage instructions. Most liqueur should be used within 6 months to a year after opening. While stable liquors mainly lose their potency and flavor after their seal is broken, liqueurs can spoil and grow bacteria over time. The more sugar in the beverage, the faster it will spoil. Keep your liqueur bottles out of direct sunlight and away from heat to preserve those bold flavors.

Cream liqueurs should be stored in the refrigerator after opening to extend their shelf life. This also ensures that the cream liqueur is chilled and ready to serve. Always check your open liqueurs for discoloration, sediments, and any odd smells before serving to guests or you’ll risk an unpleasant after-dinner drink experience.

  • Unopened Liqueurs Shelf Life: Indefinite
  • Opened Liqueurs Shelf Life: 6 months - 1 year

Does Wine Go Bad?

We’ve all heard the expression, “aged like a fine wine,” but that doesn't mean that all wines have an indefinite shelf life. A wine that is pressed and prepared with the intent of being stored for decades undergoes a specific bottling process that helps preserve it for 20 to 50 years to come. Fine wines need to be stored in temperature-controlled dark cellars to maintain their peak flavor and aroma before being opened. This is why fine wines come with a high price tag.

The average bottle of wine that is purchased at a distributor or grocery store will only retain its integrity for approximately 2 to 5 years because of its sugar content and lower ABV. Fortified wines will act more like liqueurs, having nearly indefinite shelf lives because of their high alcohol content.

Once a bottle of wine is opened, it is a race against the clock before its flavor starts to turn. Oxygen opens up the tannins in wine, releasing a bacteria called acetobacter, which leads to the vinegar flavor. The darker and more full-bodied the wine, the longer it will last. You’ll still only get approximately 5 days out of an opened bottle of full-bodied red wine before it turns. To preserve the flavor of your open wine bottles for as long as possible, reseal the bottle after each pour and store it in a cool, dark place.

  • Unopened Wine Shelf Life: 2-5 years (for standard wines); 20-50 years (for fine wines)
  • Opened Wine Shelf Life: 1-5 days (depending on the color and body); 20-30 days (if fortified)

Does Beer Go Bad?

Four types of beer in glasses

The shelf life of unopened beer will depend on whether it is pasteurized and how it is stored. If a beer was pasteurized before bottling, the flavor will keep for approximately 6 months to 1 year past its use-by date. Unpasteurized beer will only have a 3-month shelf life, making it essential not to overstock on craft beer. To make the most of its shelf life, beer should be kept in refrigerated storage.

An open bottle or can of beer will go flat within a day of being opened. However, most beer connoisseurs don’t have any trouble finishing a glass of beer to be worried about the deterioration of a beverage. Knowing the freshness of a beer keg would be more of a concern in a bar setting. Unpasteurized kegs that are appropriately chilled and pressurized retain their freshness for only 6 to 8 weeks, while pasteurized kegs can last 3 to 4 months. Keep your keg lines clean to preserve the flavor quality of the beers you have on tap in your bar with every pour.

  • Unopened Beer Shelf Life: 3 months (if unpasteurized); 6 months - 1 year (if pasteurized)
  • Opened Beer Shelf Life: 1 day (for bottles and cans); 6-8 weeks (for unpasteurized kegs); 3-4 months (for pasteurized kegs)
Back to Top

How To Store Alcohol Properly

To make sure you get the most time out of your alcohol, follow these alcohol storage tips:

  • Control light and temperature: Keep bottles of alcohol in temperature-controlled storage areas away from sunlight. Heat and light cause the liquid in the bottle to evaporate, creating more room for oxygen to come in contact with the beverage. Oxygen breaks down an alcohol’s flavor and aroma.
  • Don’t open a bottle until you’re ready to use it: Alcohol will start to deteriorate when it comes into contact with oxygen, so avoid opening the bottle before you need it.
  • Reduce exposure to oxygen once opened: Once a seal is broken, don’t leave the bottle open. Remove liquor pourers from their bottles when you put them in storage to keep air from flowing into the bottle.
  • Refer to the bottle or manufacturer: When in doubt, follow the instructions provided by the producer. Some liqueurs are best if refrigerated after opening, which should be specified on the bottle.

Alcohol Expiration FAQs

We answered some of the most common questions surrounding liquor expiration to help you manage your inventory.

Does Unopened Liquor Go Bad?

Most unopened bottles of liquor can remain in storage indefinitely without impact on their flavor and potency if stored in the proper condition. Base liquors like whiskey, vodka, rum, brandy, gin, and tequila usually don’t have a high enough sugar content in them to kickstart oxidation. Their high-alcohol levels keep bacteria from growing in the unopened bottles. If stored in a cool and dark place, sealed base liquors will be good for years to come. Once opened, base liquors will lose their integrity after about 6 months to 2 years. Consider using your older open liquor bottles for happy hour specials.

What Happens If You Drink Expired Alcohol?

Drinking expired alcohol won’t necessarily make you sick but it will lead to weak or oddly flavored drinks. There are some instances, like with liqueurs, where bacteria or mold may grow in the bottle which can lead to an upset stomach. Spoiled liquor may develop a vinegary smell and sour flavor. Always inspect the contents of a bottle before serving it to make sure the color looks correct and that there are no sediments in the liquid. If it looks or smells off, dump it.

If you’re looking to open a bar, understanding the shelf life of the alcohol in your inventory is vital to the success of your business. Use our alcohol expiration guide to ensure that you’re serving top-quality drinks to turn your customers into regulars.

Posted in: Bars & Breweries|By Janine Jones
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.
External Link

You are about to leave the security of

We are not responsible for the privacy policy or any content, links or software, or any consequences from your access to or use of the technologies, websites, information and programs made available on this new site.

Do you want to proceed?

Webstaurant TVProduct demonstrations, how-to's, & descriptions ArticlesIn-depth information and tips for running a successful restaurant Buying GuidesTools to help you find the perfect product for your business