When I was little, there was this great piece of furniture that lived in the corner of our sitting room. It was much taller than me, and stood on these long, spindly legs. It was about waist high for adults, and was the perfect size for making playhouses underneath if you’re a child. Two glass doors, always locked, held the contents of what I thought was some kind of grown-ups version of Eden - the promised but forbidden land where adults would go to pray every evening after six. My parents' drink cabinet was always full of exotic looking things; decanters and shakers and measurers and bottles upon bottles of booze.
I am now of an age where even if I don’t have an actual piece of furniture for my alcohol, I do have a drinks tray that, like my parents’ cabinet, takes pride of place in the corner of my sitting room. This is where I store my bottles of whiskey, cognac and gin, plus a random bottle of Bailey’s should someone be mad enough to want it. I love my drinks tray; I’m always fiddling with it, organising and reorganising the bottles so that it looks Instagram perfect. But recently I’ve begun to ask the question; while my drinks tray is certainly good looking, am I actually storing my spirits correctly? What’s the point in investing a great bottle of whiskey if I don’t even know how to look after it?
What are the golden rules for storing whiskey?
Unlike wine, whiskey does not have a shelf life. No serious whiskey drinker is going to look at a bottle of single malt and think that if they open it, the drink will start to deteriorate. That means that you can leave your opened whiskey bottle for long periods of time, and still come back to the same taste. Within reason of course - in this case, long periods of time is around a year or so. As long as you store your open bottles upright and away from the heat and light, you’re golden. After that, oxygen works its evil magic and a nasty chemical reaction called oxidation begins taking place. Rather like the way metal goes rusty if you don’t keep it clean, whiskey will effectively “rust” if left in an opened bottle untouched. The more headspace (air) that is in the bottle, the more oxidation occurs. This is a particularly useful bit of knowledge when it comes to ordering whiskey in a bar. If the bottle looks like it has been opened for a while, chances are it won’t taste as good as it could. Ask the barman or woman how long it’s been hanging around before parting with any hard earned cash.
But all is not lost. There is a workaround to storing an opened bottle of whiskey long term. It’s called Private Preserve and is a mixture of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and argon that, when sprayed into an open bottle of whiskey (or wine, or even olive oil), will remove the oxygen and prolong the shelf life of the contents of the bottle. The product comes highly recommended, with many oenologists and whiskey enthusiasts extolling its virtues.
How to store unopened bottles of whiskey
This is good information to have for your everyday whiskey bottles, but how do you store your whiskey when it's in sealed bottles? Say you’ve invested in something that you want to keep for a special occasion or that you might think about reselling if times get hard? The good news is that whiskey, even cheap whiskey, is far more durable than wine. The average unopened bottle of life water should last at least ten years on the shelf (or tray), provided that you keep it away from strong light and heat sources. Big changes in temperature are whiskey’s enemy - so no overly air conditioned apartments or saunas please. While whiskey’s value is not as connected to its ageing as a bottle of wine (that continues to age in the bottle), be aware that in order to keep the quality at its optimum, you should try and keep it at a more or less constant temperature. So unlike vodka or even gin, you cannot store whiskey in the fridge or the freezer!
The second golden rule of storing sealed bottles is never, ever, store bottles horizontally. Because of its very high alcohol content - far higher than in wine - when whiskey comes into contact with the cork of the bottle for a long amount of time it will start to eat away at it. This will give the whiskey a rather nasty taste, similar to a corked bottle of wine (and will lose any value if you were keeping it for investment rather than drinking). However, it is a good idea to keep the cork moist. Think about tilting the bottle on its side about two or three times a year to make sure that the cork remains wet. This will keep the cork fresh and keep oxidation at bay (a dry cork lets air in). However, remember that whiskey can and does evaporate, even in a sealed bottle. This process is known as the angel’s share, perhaps the most impossibly romantic whiskey term to have ever been invented!
So, now you know how to store your whiskey, whether it’s been opened or is still sealed. Why not add some more great whiskeys to your collection by discovering our full range?