It's a common question asked by whiskey lovers everywhere: does whiskey go bad? The answer, as with most things in life, is – it depends. We get the question often enough, especially with a spire of wood in our bottle, so we figured we'd give you a definitive answer. Here's everything you need to know about whether or not your precious whiskey could go bad.
Whiskey is a distilled spirit made from fermented grain mash. It typically has a high alcohol content, and is aging in wooden casks (usually oak). Because of its high alcohol content, many people believe that whiskey can't go bad. However, this isn't actually the case.
While it's true that the alcohol content in whiskey acts as a preservative, there are still some conditions under which whiskey can go bad. If whiskey is exposed to too much oxygen, for example, it can start to oxidize and develop a rancid taste. Additionally, if whiskey is stored in a hot or humid environment, it can begin to grow mold or mildew.
Another factor to consider is if the bottle has ever been opened. Most of us are familiar with wine oxidizing within the first several hours of a bottle being opened. However, whiskey oxidizes at a much slower rate. It will take years, as opposed to days or hours, for whiskey to develop that sour flavor after being opened. If left unopened, however, a bottle of whiskey can virtually last indefinitely.
One question we often receive at Oak & Eden is "Will the spire ever over-oak the whiskey," or "Will the spire ruin the whiskey after being in the bottle for months or years?" The short answer is no, and here's why. Unlike a barrel, which interacts with oxygen, humidity, barometric pressure, temperature changes, etc. the Oak & Eden spire is fully submerged in a closed glass bottle and often stored in a cool, dark, temperature controlled environment, so once the spire has expressed all of its flavor, it cannot “breathe” the way a barrel would. After about 6 weeks, the spire exhausts and has no flavor left to express. Additionally, because the spire is made of American white oak, a closed-grain wood, and stored in a high proof alcohol, it is impossible to harbor bacteria or mold.
For most of us who store our whiskey in cool, dim environments, however, the spirit will remain perfectly fine to drink for years – even decades. If you're ever concerned that your whiskey has oxidized, or gone bad, the best way to test it before trying it is to give it a smell. If it smells like vinegar, or anything other than whiskey, it's probably best to pour it out. More often than not, it'll be just as delicious as the day you bought it.