If youâ€™re cleaning out your pantry, you may be tempted to throw away that dusty bottle of Baileys or expensive Scotch.
While wine is said to get better with age, you may wonder whether this holds true for other types of alcohol â€” especially once theyâ€™ve been opened.
This article explains tells you all you need to know about alcohol expiration, exploring various drinks and their safety.
Alcoholic beverages have different shelf lives
Alcoholic beverages, such as liquor, beer, and wine, are made using different processes and ingredients.
All involve fermentation. In this context, thatâ€™s the process by which yeast creates alcohols by consuming sugars (1, 2).
Other factors may affect alcoholâ€™s shelf life. These include fluctuations in temperature, exposure to light, and oxidation (1, 2).
Liquor is considered shelf-stable. This category includes gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and rum. These are typically made from a range of grains or plants.
Their base, also called mash, is fermented with yeast before being distilled. Some liquors are distilled several times for a smoother taste. The resulting liquid may then be aged in casks or barrels of various woods for added complexity.
Once the manufacturer bottles the liquor, it stops aging. After opening, it should be consumed within 6â€“8 months for peak taste, according to industry experts (3).
However, you may not notice a change in taste for up to a year â€” especially if you have a less discerning palate (3).
Liquor should be stored in a dark, cool place â€” or even a freezer, though this isnâ€™t necessary. Keep the bottles upright to prevent the liquid from touching the cap, which may cause corrosion that affects flavor and quality.
Proper storage helps prevent evaporation and oxidation, thereby extending shelf life.
It should be noted that liqueurs â€” sweetened, distilled spirits with added flavors, such as fruit, spices, or herbs â€” will last up to 6 months after opening. Cream liqueurs should be kept cold, ideally in your fridge, to extend their shelf life (4, 5).
Beer is produced by brewing a cereal grain â€” usually malted barley â€” with water and yeast (1, 6, 7).
This mixture is allowed to ferment, producing natural carbonation that gives beer its distinctive fizz (1, 7).
Hops, or flowers of the hop plant, are added at the end of the process. These impart bitter, floral, or citrus notes and aromas. Furthermore, they help stabilize and preserve beer (1).
Sealed beer is shelf-stable for 6â€“8 months past its use-by date and lasts longer if refrigerated. Generally, beer with an alcohol by volume (ABV) greater than 8% is slightly more shelf-stable than beer with a lower ABV.
Unpasteurized beer also has a shorter shelf life. Pasteurization kills off harmful pathogens with heat to extend the shelf life of a variety of food products, including beer (8).
Whereas mass-produced beers are usually pasteurized, craft beers arenâ€™t. Unpasteurized beers should be consumed within 3 months of bottling for the best flavor. You can normally find the bottling date on the label.
Pasteurized beers can still taste fresh for up to 1 year after being bottled.
Beer should be stored upright in a cool, dark place with a constant temperature, such as your fridge. Drink it within a few hours of opening for peak taste and carbonation.
Like beer and liquor, wine is produced via fermentation. However, itâ€™s always made from grapes rather than grains or other plants. Sometimes, grape stems and seeds are used to deepen the flavor.
Some wines are aged in casks or barrels for months or years to further intensify their taste. While fine wines may improve with age, cheap wines should be consumed within 2 years of bottling.
Organic wines, including those produced without preservatives like sulfites, should be consumed within 3â€“6 months of purchase (9).
Light and heat affect the quality and flavor of wine. Thus, keep it in a cool, dry environment away from sunlight. Unlike liquor and beer, corked wine should be stored on its side. Properly stored wine can last for several years.
Once opened, wine is exposed to oxygen, expediting the aging process. You should drink most wines within 3â€“7 days of opening for the best taste. Be sure to cork them and keep in the fridge between pours (3, 10).
Fortified wines have a distilled spirit, such as brandy, added. These and boxed wines can last up to 28 days after opening if properly stored (11, 12).
Sparkling wines have the shortest lifespan and should be consumed within hours of opening for peak carbonation. To extend their shelf life, keep them in the fridge with an airtight wine stopper. You should use up the bottle within 1â€“3 days (10).
Alcoholic beverages are made differently and thus have varying shelf lives. Liquor lasts the longest, whereas wine and beer are less shelf-stable.
Can expired alcohol make you sick?
Liquor does not expire to the point of causing sickness. It simply loses flavor â€” generally a year after being opened.
Beer that goes bad â€” or flat â€” wonâ€™t make you sick but may upset your stomach. You should throw out beer if thereâ€™s no carbonation or white foam (head) after you pour it. You may also notice a change in taste or sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
Fine wine generally improves with age, but most wines arenâ€™t fine and should be consumed within a few years.
If wine tastes vinegary or nutty, it has likely gone bad. It may also look brown or darker than expected. Drinking expired wine might be unpleasant but isnâ€™t considered dangerous.
Spoiled wine, whether red or white, generally turns into vinegar. Vinegar is highly acidic, which protects it against bacterial growth that might otherwise harm your health (13).
Of course, overindulging in alcohol â€” no matter the type or expiration status â€” may lead to unpleasant side effects, such as headache, nausea, and liver damage over the long term. Make sure to drink it in moderation â€” up to one drink daily for women and two for men (14, 15).
Expired alcohol doesnâ€™t make you sick. If you drink liquor after itâ€™s been open for more than a year, you generally only risk a duller taste. Flat beer typically tastes off and may upset your stomach, whereas spoiled wine usually tastes vinegary or nutty but isnâ€™t harmful.
The bottom line
Alcoholic drinks are produced using different ingredients and processes. As a result, their shelf lives vary. Storage also plays a role.
Liquor is considered the most shelf-stable, while many factors determine how long beer and wine last.
Consuming alcohol past its expiration date is not generally considered dangerous.
That said, overindulging in alcohol, whatever its age, can lead to unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. Whatever alcohol you drink, be sure to do so in moderation.