Whether you’ve splurged on a special bottle of whiskey or are stocking up on tequila to make margaritas, here’s the good news: You don’t need to worry too much about how to store your liquor. Compared to wine, which is more vulnerable to spoilage at high temperatures, most distilled spirits keep just fine at room temperature, the pros say, and special equipment isn’t required.
“Spirits do not require you to coddle them or monitor them, they are very hardy and will endure,” says Stuart Baxter, a global brand ambassador who works with a wide range of spirits, from Caorunn Gin to Phraya Rum.
That said, a few guidelines can help keep your spirits in optimal condition, even over the long haul.
Store spirits at room temperature.
In general, “room temperature” is defined as 68–77°F. But bottled spirits will be comfortable at a wider range, especially if they are stored away from direct sunlight and humidity.
“Anything under 80°F should be fine,” says Adam Polonski, cofounder of Lost Lantern Whiskey. “Compared to wine, you don’t have to be as stringent about storage for spirits. You can keep it in a relatively warm closet for a long time and it will keep, even it’s open, even it’s more than a year.”
Given the option, some pros prefer slightly cooler temps for storage: “I would say it’s roughly 58–59°F, and you don’t want anything more than that,” says Dr. Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whiskey creation at Ardbeg, an Islay Scotch maker.
Similarly, Murphy Quint, head distiller and director of operations at Iowa’s Cedar Ridge, says the ideal conditions to store whiskey are “room temperature or slightly colder,” meaning 65–68°F.
Below that temperature range? Don’t worry.
Spirits stored below that range won’t be harmed, although some—notably those that are not chill-filtered—may take on a cloudy or hazy appearance.
“If people want the spirit to look absolutely pristine, they’ll want to keep it above 35–40°,” says Polonski. “If it’s not chill-filtered, some of the solids will come out of the solution, which doesn’t do any harm, but it’s not as clear-looking.” To remedy that situation, he says, shake or stir to reintegrate the solids, and let it return to room temperature.
“Spirits do not require you to coddle them or monitor them; they are very hardy and will endure.” —Stuart Baxter
Thanks to their high alcohol content, spirits won’t freeze. However, they may thicken a little in below-room-temperature conditions. For that reason, some vodka lovers deliberately store bottles in the freezer for extra chill and a slightly syrupy pour, explains Darron Foy, bar manager for NYC restaurant The Flatiron Room. However, “chilling your spirit in a fridge or freezer may change the flavor of the spirit, muting lighter notes and tones that would be present in a room-temp bottle,” he adds.
So, if you want to stash that pre-batched martini in the freezer, go for it, but know that the botanicals in the gin may seem less pronounced.
Above that temperature range? It’s okay—for the short term.
Long-term exposure to heat can cause spirits to “cook,” degrading the quality of a spirit over time.
“You risk encouraging the oxidation of some of the compounds in there, particularly the oils and lipids, which can lead to a degree of rancidity,” says Lumsden. “Another thing that could happen is that you could evaporate some of the alcohol in the spirit as well.”
Fortunately, it takes more than a quick heat wave to ruin a spirit, the pros say. Think months or even years, rather than days.
“One very hot day, and you can ruin a bottle of wine,” says Polonski. “Unless you’re very attuned, you won’t notice it in spirits for a long time. It might lose some of its flavor, it will taste a little off, but it won’t be ruined. It should still be drinkable, and somewhat enjoyable, it just won’t be quite at its peak.”
However, rising mercury can cause the contents of a bottle to expand, potentially causing the stopper or cork to pop. This potential problem is more likely to affect bottles that are already open, as well as those with cork or T-top closures that get pushed into the bottle neck (twist-top closures are unlikely to be affected this way).
“We’ve actually had this happen at the distillery during hot Iowa summers in our early days,” says Quint.
Keep spirits away from direct sunlight and humidity.
“An absolute no-no, particularly for whiskey, is you cannot store your whiskey in direct sunlight,” says Lumsden. “That, again, can lead to oxidation happening. You get that sunstruck, rancid type character.”
Too much humidity can also lead to “an elevated level of alcohol loss,” he adds, and potentially cause cork closures to swell and eventually break off.
An early warning that bottles are receiving too much light: The label may appear faded or discolored. (That may be particularly disconcerting to those who collect spirits, where the label can be part of the value.) If you spot labels fading, roll that bar cart away from the window or move those bottles to a darker, cooler spot.
Cap open bottles tightly and store them upright.
Sealed bottles will weather temperature and climate fluctuations more easily than opened bottles. However, an opened spirit can survive for a relatively long time, as long as the cap is replaced securely.
“It’s even more important, once the bottle is opened, that you stick to a rigid storage regime,” says Lumsden. “Stick the stopper on the bottle, absolutely keep it out of the heat and sunlight, and try to store it in cool, dark conditions.”
He also advises keeping spirit bottles stored upright, not on their sides. This is particularly important for those with cork closures. “The high alcohol strength and other things eat into the cork.”
Foy takes this a step further. “As a collector, I’ve learned to keep my bottles upright, and flip then once or twice a month to wet the cork,” he says. “This stops the cork drying out and breaking up into the liquid.”
Stored in the right conditions—cool, dark, tightly closed—an opened, 80-proof-or-higher spirit bottle can be preserved for years, even decades.
“I’ve got several bottles of single malt in various cellars that I’ve had open for 25 years and they’re just about as good as I remember when I opened them,” says Lumsden.