Does Bourbon Go Bad or Does It Just Get Better With Age?

Who doesn’t love a glass of bourbon? It’s easy to drink, smooth, and has that sweet, caramel taste you can’t resist. If you’re a fan of this whiskey, you may be wondering, “Does bourbon go bad?”

Well, it depends. Bourbon can last indefinitely if unopened and stored properly. Once opened, the alcohol content will start to evaporate, and the whiskey will begin to go bad.

This article is all about bourbon. Read on to learn more about the shelf life of this American whisky.

What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that has been made in the United States since the late 1700s. It first became popular in Kentucky and spread throughout the United States as time went on.

Manufacturers age bourbon in wood barrels for as little as 1 year or up to 20 years or more. The longer the aging process, the more expensive and rare the bourbon will be.

The flavor of bourbon depends on the ingredients used, but it is generally sweeter than other whiskeys. You can drink it on its own or mix it with many different ingredients to create cocktails such as Old Fashioned and Manhattan.

SEE: Enjoy Specialty Drinks at Affordable Prices at Texas Roadhouse

Does Bourbon Go Bad?

Yes, it does. However, bourbon has a relatively long shelf life because of the way it’s made and stored. The alcohol content kills most bacteria and other microorganisms that could cause it to spoil.

The major cause of spoilage in bourbon is oxidation (when oxygen comes into contact with the alcohol molecules in your drink). This process causes your liquor to turn an unpleasant dark color and lose its flavor as well as some of its aroma.

The best way to store this whiskey at home is in an airtight container such as a glass jar. Make sure it’s not exposed to sunlight or high temperatures because these can affect the flavor over time.

What Is the Shelf Life of Bourbon?

Unopened bottles of bourbon will last indefinitely. Once opened, bourbon’s shelf life reduces to about 1 year at room temperature, 1 ½ years in the refrigerator, and 2 years in the freezer.

This is because of oxidation, which occurs when oxygen reacts with certain compounds in the bourbon and causes them to break down. As this process continues over time, the bourbon’s alcohol content decreases and it starts to go bad.

If you have an opened bottle of bourbon, pour the content into an airtight container, and then store it in a cool, dry place. If you’re planning on storing it for longer than a year, it would be wise to keep it in the refrigerator or freezer.

SEE: Enjoy All Day Weekend Deal at Torchy’s Happy Hour

Can You Drink Expired Bourbon?

The answer is yes, but experts do not recommend it. Over time, the alcohol in bourbon will evaporate, causing the alcohol level to drop below the recommended volume.

At this point, the whiskey won’t have as much flavor and aroma as before because all of its volatile compounds have been lost. It will also be more susceptible to bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause food poisoning.

If you do decide to drink expired bourbon, don’t drink straight from the bottle. You’ll want to pour yourself a glass first so that if anything is wrong with the whiskey, you can discard it before it gets into your mouth.

How to Tell if Bourbon Is Bad

The smell is bad

The most obvious sign that bourbon has gone bad is when it smells sour or vinegary. This means that the alcohol has oxidized and gone bad, turning your drink into vinegar.

If this is the case with your whiskey, throw it away. It’s better than risking getting ill from drinking something potentially contaminated with harmful bacteria or mold spores.

It tastes sour or bitter

Another way to tell if bourbon is bad is by tasting it. If you taste a bitter flavor (like lime) in it, that means there’s something wrong with it.

Sourness is an indicator that something went wrong during the production or storage process. Either way, drinking the whiskey will make you sick later on (if not immediately).

It looks discolored

Check the color of your whiskey closely before consuming it. If you see any discoloration (such as yellowing or browning), then do not drink the product. This indicates that you’ve exposed it to light or heat, so throw it away immediately.

It’s cloudy or hazy

Bourbon should be as clear as water (or at least close). If your whiskey is cloudy, something went wrong during the distilling process. The same goes for haze — if your whiskey looks like a milkshake instead of water, there’s something wrong with it.

SEE: Get a Chance to Win $1000 or $100 at Rite Aid

How to Preserve Bourbon

Use an airtight container

Avoid using containers that allow air to pass through them, as this can cause your whiskey to get bad quickly. If possible, use glass containers instead — they’re easier to clean and won’t introduce harmful chemicals like plastic ones.

Keep it tightly sealed

Bourbon can pick up off-flavors from its packaging if air gets inside the bottle. Therefore, it’s important to keep it sealed tightly so that no air gets into its container. Air can cause oxidation or other undesirable effects on the liquid inside.

Store in a cool place

Direct sunlight causes many types of liquids to change their taste and smell over time, including whiskey. Also, avoid storing your whiskey near heat sources such as radiators or fireplaces because they generate too much heat for long periods.

Bourbon ages better when you keep it at low temperatures. Ideally, an area that stays dark during daylight hours (like a wine cellar) would be perfect for storing it.

Refrigerate it

Refrigerating this whiskey is an easy way to keep it at the perfect temperature for sipping or mixing. The lower temperature will also slow down evaporation, which means less loss of alcohol into the air.

If you choose to refrigerate your whiskey, make sure you keep it upright at all times so no liquid seeps through the cork and ruins the contents of your bottle.

Freeze it

If you want to keep your whiskey for long periods, freeze it to keep it tasting its best. If you don’t have space in your refrigerator, consider storing your whiskey in the freezer instead. When you are ready to drink it, simply thaw it on the countertop or in the refrigerator.

SEE: What You Need to Know About Uncle Julio’s Happy Hour


Is bourbon sweet?

Yes, it is. Bourbon is sweeter and smoother than most whiskeys because it contains a higher percentage of corn and sugar. Bourbon also has a high alcohol content (usually around 40%), which helps balance out the sweetness.

Does bourbon need to be in the dark?

Yes, it does. Keep your bourbon away from direct sunlight or fluorescent light bulbs—they will affect its coloring over time. This is especially important if you live in an area that gets a lot of sun during certain times of the year.

Ideally, you should store your whisky in a temperature-controlled environment between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit with low humidity.

What happens when you leave your bourbon bottle open?

When you leave a bottle of bourbon open, oxygen comes into contact with the liquid inside. This can cause oxidation, which results in your bourbon looking black or yellow after some time.

If you have an opened bottle of bourbon, transfer it into an airtight container and seal it tightly. Store the container in a dark place, away from sunlight and heat sources like radiators or furnace vents.

Is bourbon gluten-free?

Yes, it is. While the ingredients in bourbon may contain gluten, the protein has been removed during the distillation process. The distillation process also removes any other protein or starch that may have been present in the original ingredients.

However, it’s always best to double-check with the manufacturer when buying bourbon for someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Can you refrigerate bourbon?

Yes, you can. Refrigerating bourbon is a great way to preserve its flavor and keep it from going bad. This is especially important if the temperature inside your apartment fluctuates throughout the day and night.

A fluctuating temperature can cause condensation to form in the bourbon bottle if you don’t seal it tightly. If this happens, then when you go to enjoy your bourbon later, you’ll find yourself with some watery whiskey instead of smooth sipping whiskey.


As long as your bourbon is unopened, it should last indefinitely. However, once you open it and expose it to oxygen, things can go downhill fast.

As soon as you open your whiskey, transfer it into an airtight container, and store it in your wine cellar, refrigerator, or freezer.

Thanks for reading.

Visit Cheffist if you’d like to learn more about the shelf life of whiskeys.