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Whiskey (and other spirits) Degradation and Oxidation

Hi. Does anyone have a resource or point of reference for what happens to barrel aged spirits after they are opened? I know that nothing BAD is actually going to happen to it, but I also know that there will be an evaporation of esters and alcohol alike. Most of the time, this doesn't matter much, but that bottle of Yamazaki 35, Maccallan M, or Hennessy Richard may not sell very quickly, and it damn well better taste like it was meant to when the consumer pays that kind of money. What is the time limit on this? If the bottle has been sitting on the shelf for three years because the owner is a rabid collector of status symbols, how much has the whiskey or brandy changed? 

  • Key is to look at how the spirituous product appears. Specifically, is it cloudy/milky? If so, do not serve.

    As alcohol evaporates, the product becomes more susceptible to bacterial contamination. I have seen photos of a bottle with funky islands floating in it. Avoid, obviously. And there are plenty of gradations prior to that - the milky/cloudy aspects.

    Storing at a constant temperature is important. Temperature changes act like a pump, pulling alcohol out of the bottle.

    I do not have a precise answer for the exact amount of time. Someone just yesterday asked me about an old bottle of Crown Royal, two inches left and not opened in 20 years. Cloudy. He followed my advice of discarding. Yet I have seen open bottles of Louis XIII and the like be fine for 5 years, but that was kept in a constant temperature environment.
  • Thanks. Really looking for something a little more scientific than "is it cloudy." I want to know what is happening and how to build a timeline from that.
  • Alcohol evaporates, the remaining liquid can be infected with spores/bacteria in the air. So it really depends on the environment. I image Vietnam would have a different aging window than Flagstaff.
  • I gas spirits that I rarely open.j

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