How to Store Spirits

Best practices for storing wine don't necessarily apply to that premium bottle of tequila.

How to Store Spirits

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Jack Beguedou has nearly 3,000 bottles of booze in his basement. A spirits educator known as Hood Sommelier on Instagram and TikTok, Beguedou customized the entire space for his collection. “I have vintage spirits that I bought in auction, and I have to make sure they’re stored in the right conditions,” he explains. “I have vents specifically for them, and I keep it at 69°F at all times.”

Whether you’re a collector like Beguedou, or simply want to keep that bottle of bourbon you picked up last month in mint condition, how you store spirits impacts their flavors, textures, and aromas. “The two largest factors that affect spirits over time are light and temperature,” says Sean Patrick McClure, beverage director at The Ivory Peacock in New York City. He recommends storing open and sealed bottles of liquor out of direct sunlight and at room temperature or slightly cooler, around 68 to 72°F.

If your bottle has a cork closure, as is the case for many whiskeys,aged rums, and tequilas, moisture is also important. While wine is typically cellared horizontally to keep corks hydrated, the best way to store liquor is upright, so the cork isn’t exposed to harsh alcohol that can cause it to degrade or crumble. 

“Every now and then, give the bottle a shake so the cork stays moist,” says Beguedou. This can be as often as once a week or as infrequently as every three months. It all depends on the age and condition of the bottle and its closure –– older corks will likely need more frequent hydration. Eyeball any bottles with cork closures to see if they appear dry, which should be apparent by how pronounced its holes or pores look. If the cork seems to be on the verge of crumbling, don’t shake the bottle unless you want to filter out debris the next time you serve it. Instead, transfer the spirit to a new bottle with a glass, plastic, or otherwise healthy closure. 

Another element that affects the longevity of spirits is alcohol content. “The higher the ABV, the longer the shelf life,” McClure says. Because alcohol is a preservative, distilled spirits like vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, and rum that start at 35% ABV last much longer than vermouth, sherry, and fortified wines that clock in around 16 to 20% ABV. 

“Those lower-proof products are very lively liquids and will deteriorate much more quickly, sometimes as fast as two weeks to a month,” says Amanda Victoria, CEO and founder of Siponey Spritz Co. While you are unlikely to be harmed by a fortified wine that’s past its prime, its aromatics and flavors might smell and taste muted or even slightly off. 

Meanwhile, if you store a distilled spirit in a cool, dark place, it can last almost indefinitely. Liquor doesn’t go bad in the same way that an open bottle of wine will start to turn to vinegar. “The water in the liquid will evaporate over time and reduce in the bottle,” Victoria says of distilled spirits, but this is a years-long process. Often, that water will condense in the neck of the bottle, so all you need to do is give it a quick shake to reconstitute the liquid before serving.

Begeudou enjoys re-tasting spirits in his collection to see how they evolve over the years. “If I open a bottle and I don’t like it, I’ll come back to it after six months. What’s in the bottle changes and also your palate evolves,” he says. “I vividly remember a bottle that I opened a few years ago. I thought it was the worst thing I had. But I put it on the shelf, I maintained it, and then two years later I poured it and I thought, ‘What? This is delicious.’”

If all this talk of optimal storage conditions has you wondering about that bottle of vodka living rent-free in your freezer, rest assured, you’re not permanently damaging it. Keep in mind that cold temperatures will mute a spirit’s flavors and texture when you go to drink it, though. 

“To use an unfortunate word that was very misused in the 90s and still today, your vodka will be ‘smoother’ if you store it in the freezer because you’re masking all its subtle flavor nuances,” Victoria says. That can be a positive or negative, depending on your outlook and what’s in the bottle. If you like the flavor and texture of your vodka, it could be a disservice to keep it in your freezer. But, if the spirit has a lot of additives and gives you a boozy burn when you drink it, “it might absolutely benefit from being poured chilled,” says Victoria.

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