Keeping it Fresh

Malt Advocate publisher & editor John Hansell has an interesting post up today at What Does John Know, regarding the storage of whisk(e)y. To wit: how do you keep your opened bottles at their best?

This is a question that’s increasingly starting to bother me. Several years ago, when I first started assembling the contents of my liquor cabinet (though that list is badly outdated now — the “August 6” date refers to 2007), I was working with information that I’d read god-only-knows-where that for all intents and purposes, distilled spirits will last pretty much forever, as long as you keep the bottles well sealed and in a cool, dark place.

Now, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff; while my cabinet is built for depth and function, and there are only a few bottles that I’d consider high-end collector’s sorts of spirits, I’m increasingly concerned about the life span of what’s in the bottles. Once a bottle has been opened (and depending on the seal, sometimes even before), a gradual process of oxidation starts, robbing a spirit of its nuances and vital characteristics. In time — how long? who knows (let me know if you do) — the booze in the bottle is a shadow of its former self, a faded (and perhaps expensive) souvenir that harks back to a time when I thought I needed four different styles of apricot brandy.

While I’m pretty strict about refrigerating my vermouths (and other wine-ey relatives) and using them fairly quickly, the storage of my spirits is starting to give me a bit of heartburn. So, from my pit of clueless worry, I’ll cast the question out to you: how do you care for your open bottles? Do you use a Vacu Vin, an inert-gas system like Private Preserve, decant your booze into smaller bottles, or just try to drink fast? Please chime in…

8 Responses to Keeping it Fresh

  1. I haven’t had anything real expensive to save for long periods of time, but my favorite white tequila, El Tesoro platinum, looses it’s subtle floral notes and picks up a harsh citrus pithy note within weeks. On the occasion I pick up a bottle, I use a VacuVin wine vaccum and keep it in the fridge. It seems to help keep the shelf life be a bit longer than the 2-3 weeks before that off flavor starts to develop.

    Of course when it starts to go it’s as good a reason (not that I need one) as any to buy some limes for margaritas.

    Good link btw Tiare.


  2. Paul ~

    I’m a bit of a museum geek, so this is a bit of a geeky answer. First option is to drink the spirits in a timely matter once they are opened. Got a collector’s bottle? Plan on time with good friends.

    On the other hand—and here’s the geeky part—the natural history museum staff who handle specimens preserved in alcohol spend a LOT of time researching evaporation rates and the solubility of supposedly inert seals. The Society for the Preservation of Natural
    History Collections (SPNHC and pronounced ‘spinach’) put out a pamphlet called “Supplies and Materials for Museum Collections” in 2006 that recommends SpecTape, Inc.’s SpecTape, #ST-408C, a “Transparent polypropylene coated with an acrylic-based, extremely adhesive aggressive.” For the record, I’ve got no connection to the tape folks; just worked with plenty of critters in alcohol and recognize that pros in an entirely different field have already been looking into the problems of hooch evaporation/oxidation.

    Yeah, the “extremely aggressive adhesive” gives me pause and propbably would be inappropriate for a bottle you wanted to crack open once every few weeks, but once a year? Maybe—just maybe—that or something like that could come in handy.

    Shoot me an mail me if you’d like a copy of the report…

  3. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent wondering the same thing. I don’t own the vacuum seal systems or anything and, with the exception of scotch and top shelf liquors, I keep my entire bar topped with pour spouts with the large dust/fruit fly covers. I’ve become reasonably certain through research that alcohol stored that way (not quite sealed) will not evaporate at any meaningful rate, so I’m been more concerned at the flavor. I’ve been trying to get educated with classic and original cocktails and therefore have a bunch of ingredients that aren’t used too often and am worried that in a year or two my investment in the bar is going to go south.

    Maybe I’ll just have more parties. Hmm.

  4. the original bottle is a romantic thing but i’ve found that you really need to decant into smaller bottles for the practicality of the home bar… oxygen creates most of the aged flavors we all love so it shouldn’t exactly be demonized. but it is good to keep things at the level of oxidation the artist intended…

    i use small canning jars…

  5. In my case, I am restricted by economy; I only have so much space in my sideboard, and so much money, so I focus on just a couple of different brands of each base liquor at a time.
    For liquers and such, I buy the smallest bottle I can find. I wanted to try out Navan and kirsch earlier, so I found them both in the airline-sized bottles.
    I tend to buy according to season as well; this past winter I went through two bottles of applejack, but didn’t buy any after that. Now the fall is here, and applejack is starting to appeal to me more.
    So my home bar flucuates; I don’t try to have one of everything, so I go through everything pretty consistently.

  6. For vermouth and other aromatized wines, I use an inert-gas wine preserver and keep them in the fridge. I also keep genever-style gins in the fridge, but not for preservation purposes; I just like the way genever tastes cold. As for the rest of my spirits and liqueurs? I just keep them capped/closed and stored in my cabinet. If there’s some decline over time, so be it — I can only worry about so many things in my life, and this cannot be one of them. That said, if there’s a definitive solution out there, I’d probably try it.

  7. Cocktailian sf fans who read Larry Niven’s work will pine for a stasis box for storing their liquor …

    Barring that, vermouthy things get pumped with wine preserver gas and stored in the fridge, and the spirits I drink more slowly (aged, expensive stuff) gets the gas too. Rye and gin and the like goes fast at our place, so we don’t worry. 🙂

    My big regret about my beloved Carpano Antica vermouth is that it only comes in liter bottles and always suffers by the time we get toward the latter half of the bottle, even when we think we’re drinking it quickly. I do wish we could get 375s of this stuff. Would decanting it immediately into smaller bottles help, do you think, or would any exposure to air, even as we’re transferring it, begin its decline? If it’s the former I’ll just start saving my 375ml Cinzano, Noilly Prat and Vya bottles …

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