Apr 26

Does Whiskey Age in the Bottle?

Royal Salute 21 Year Old Blended Scotch DetailAnother great whiskey debate – does your bottle play a factor in the aging process?

Most people will say “no”, and dismiss anybody who says “yes” as naive.  And naivety may very well be the case when it comes to those individuals.  But, I’d like to dig a little deeper into this question.

Before we go any further, let’s define what aging is in relation to whiskey.  Traditionally, maturation occurs when the whiskey is in the barrel, and anything housing the whiskey before or after does not impart any flavor or other characteristics to the whiskey.

Fair enough, but are we to believe that the whiskey in your bottle that’s been there for a year is suspended in time and has not changed, for better or worse?  Isn’t the air in that bottle interacting with the liquid?

Yes, of course it is.  Not to mention that a cork or (gasp!) twist-off cap don’t always seal your bottle as well as you think it might.

So what exactly happens, then?  Well, as time goes on and oxygen has the opportunity to interact with what’s in your bottle, some of the alcohol will evaporate.  This can reduce the proof of your whiskey.  Some will argue that with less alcohol comes less flavor, while others will say that less alcohol means more of a chance to taste the whiskey.

No, I do not have a clear-cut answer to this question, and I don’t think anybody else does either – although there are plenty of bloggers out there that think they do.  I’m much more interested in hearing your opinion.  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

 

-Ryan

22 comments

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  1. I don’t if what happens once it’s bottled can be called aging, but I truly believe that the whisk(e)y will change over time once you crack the seal and introduce air to the spirit. And I think the higher the ABV, the bigger the change, since like you said, some of the alcohol evaporates. Does it get better over time? Not sure, but I will tell you this, the last dram always seems to be the most memorable. Maybe it’s a sense of loss when the bottle is done. Kind of like saying goodbye to an old friend….

      • Ryan on May 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm
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      I’d venture to guess that it wouldn’t get any better, necessarily, as time goes on. I do think that it changes. The last dram of a bottle is always memorable, though!

      -Ryan

    • Nadine R on January 7, 2013 at 11:38 pm
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    In have a bottle of five star that sealed from 1985 what would that be worth now a days?

      • Ryan on January 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm
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      Hi Nadine.

      While I cannot give you an exact answer, I will tell you this – it’s probably not worth any more than the day it was purchased. Whiskey bottled decades ago isn’t really much different than whiskey bottled today. Had that same liquid stayed in the barrel and been bottled today, that would be a different story.

      Thanks for the comment!

      -Ryan

    • Marie on March 9, 2013 at 7:57 pm
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    I have a bottle of your Virginia Gentlemen Whiskey that is about 30 years old. Just opened the seal and there is sediment in the bottle. Is it still good?

      • Ryan on March 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm
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      Hi Marie.

      I really do not know what to tell you since I am not the distiller of Virginia Gentleman. What I will tell you is that you might as well pick up a new bottle since you’ll only be paying $15 or so for a handle.

      -Ryan

    • Bob on May 2, 2013 at 9:40 pm
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    I recently obtained several bottles of whiskey that are over 50 years old. I see that it should be still good, but was wondering if the taste is the same as the original?

    1. Hi Bob.

      It depends if the bottles were opened or not. If they are still sealed, they should taste the same as the day they were bought. If they have been opened, then air has had a chance to interact with the whiskey in those bottles for five decades. I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’ve gone “bad”; they will just be different.

      Cheers!

      -Ryan

    • Dave on March 13, 2014 at 5:23 pm
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    I don’t drink alcohol, and was given a bottle of 12 year old Chivas Regal in 1986, it came in one of those silver cylinder containers. It’s never been opened and has a screw on top with a shrink wrap cover. I’ve had it 28 years. I would like to donate it to some taste testers and compare it to a newly purchased bottle. Just to see if their is a difference, wheather good or bad. Are you aware of any such org. in S. Florida that would be interested?

      • Ryan on March 15, 2014 at 5:50 pm
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      Hi Dave.

      I am not aware of any such organization. Perhaps another reader can chime in?

      -Ryan

    • Gary Patschke on October 3, 2014 at 12:15 am
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    Opened or not any whiskey over time I believe will have some difference– a bottle unopened for 5 years —– time itself would have to due something— you say no it would not— what about 20 years— 30 years—- I’m not even considering temperature changes or oxygen just time itself— there are no studies on this — but how scientific is a taste test even by the so called experts

    • Anna on November 6, 2014 at 7:10 pm
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    Our first son will be born around Thanksgiving, and while trying to figure out what to give a brand new infant for their first Christmas, I thought a bottle of whiskey to share with his dad on his 21st Christmas might be nice. I don’t know anything about whiskey, though. If it remained unopened and in our safe for 21 years, do you think it would still be worth drinking? Even if it’s a little “meh” by then, it’s more about the anticipation than enjoying a perfect shot. But I would like it to still be worth it, you know?

      • Ryan on November 15, 2014 at 10:10 am
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      Hi Anna.

      If it remains unopened for 21 years (wouldn’t last that long in my household), it should be fine. That’s a really neat idea for your new child!

      -Ryan

    • Duane on December 26, 2014 at 3:48 pm
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    I have a bottle of Crown Royal from 1964 and I just opened it , I have used fairly new bottles and this particular bottle has a much more smooth taste . So I believe it ages better with time!!!

      • Mike Stewart on May 3, 2017 at 10:57 am
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      At a friends cookout, there was a group of us admiring an unopened 1968 bottle of Crown Royal when some bimbo twisted the lid and broke the seal. The story ends with my friend and I comparing the tastes of the ’68 bottle and a brand new one on hand- this was around 2010. The older had a full flavor and was much more smoother.

    • ricard on November 16, 2015 at 1:20 pm
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    I have what I like to call a 45 year bottle of scotch, or 1 one year bottle of scotch that has been sitting on a shelf for 45 years. 45 years is a safe bet since it was in my Aunts finished basement bar since the early 70’s. It’s a 1 liter bottle od Dewar’s White Label. still unopened. cap has not been cracked open.

    Still haven’t opened it and debating if its worth saving for a special occasion or will if has gone “skunk”, like beer or cheap wine that was never meant to be save for such a long period of time?

      • Ryan on November 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm
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      If it’s been kept out of direct sunlight and not been opened, it should be fine. Probably not any better or worse than they day it was purchased.

      -Ryan

  2. I believe the term “whiskey ” means “des tilled ” so if that is the case then there is nothing in it to age…. So the only thing that really happened is that it does get get weaker if it has a cork. The alcohol does evaporate, and it will taste smoother because of that fact.. But if you have a air tight bottle from 1966 it will taste the same as a bottle from 2016…. Thats my 20 year theory anyway . 🙂

    • Dave on January 26, 2017 at 9:02 am
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    Hi
    I am interested in this topic.
    I have recently discovered Irish Whiskey having been a Single malt drinker for many years.
    My interest is in half a dozen Famous Grouse and Bells 8 year blended that I have on the shelf. These are all 40 year plus of age.
    Recently I sampled a bottle of similar age and the flavour tasted fine. But here is the issue is seemed much smoother and more rounded than I ever remember, has it matured, are my taste buds less sensitive or more tuned to the flavour of the spirit.

    From the manufacturing point yes it is a distilled spirit but it does contain more that alcohol, most impure liquor less than 100% will contain a variety of esters and other compounds either from the distillation process or the cask aging process.
    40 years as a Chemical engineer would suggest that these will inter-react and morph into new compounds over long periods so I think the whiskey will change in the bottle but I don’t know how.
    I am looking for a subjective guide on the subject!

    • Clancy on August 12, 2017 at 10:22 pm
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    Decided to purchase a 750 of Bushmills since it was on sale…big mistake. Very harsh and not worth finishing so i put the mostly full bottle on the booze shelf of the left side my sub-ground basement food closet. 6 months later tried again…just as bad. A year goes by and it seamed to not be as bad but still not great so back on the shelf it went and i forgot about it till about another year later. something had happened, it had changed and was smooth, excellent and unbelievable. I sparingly used it on special occasions knowing when it was gone it was gone and that would be the end. When a half bottle was left I took it to a St. Paddy’s day party and was made fun of because it was Protestant Irish Whiskey yet there was a new almost full bottle of Bushmills there. We compared the two and mine was a large different in drinkability and even a color difference. By the end of the party it was almost gone.

    • Dick TL Hong on October 30, 2017 at 1:56 am
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    I saved 2 bottle of Royal Salute one blue and one brown about 35 years ago. Last year when I brougth them down from my shelf, I discovered that they were almost empty even though the original tax stamp seal was unbroken. It seems that all the alcohol has evaporated over the years since the decorative bottle was made of porcelain instead of glass… very disappointed after all these years…lesson learned.

    • Jeremy on November 10, 2017 at 7:27 pm
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    I’ve done the same as Anna and purchased both of my son’s bottles of alcohol to give to them as a wedding present or just to enjoy with them on their 21st birthdays. My oldest (10yrs) I purchased a bottle of gentleman jack from Jack Daniels (his name is jackson) and my youngest (9yrs) a bottle of crown royal. I am excited to see if there is any changes when they are of age.

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