Does Bourbon Go Bad? The Shelf-Life, Storage Methods, and Spoilage Signs Everything You Must Know!

Does Bourbon Go Bad?

Finishing a bottle of Bourbon in a single sitting is not possible unless and until you are sharing it with your friends and families. So, the possibility of storing the American Spirit back on the shelf after a single serving is always there.

When it comes to putting back the Bourbon on your bar’s display, you may wonder, Does Bourbon Go Bad? While an unopened bottle of Bourbon can last for decades, its shelf life drops to 1-2 years right after opening it.

But there’s much more to the store. If you have questions like, “What is its Shelf-Life? How much time do you have to finish the bottle? What is the risk of consuming bad Bourbon? And what are the best storage methods?” you have come to the right place.

Continue reading to find the relevant answer below.


How Long Can Bourbon Last?

What is the Shelf Life of Bourbon

Like other strong liquors, Bourbon has a long lifespan, provided that it is stored properly as suggested. Bourbon is the hard liquor to have the longest lifespan, owing to its higher alcohol content. But, there is a crucial difference between unopened and opened bottles of Bourbon.

The unopened Bourbon bottle will last for decades without losing its soothing quality, provided that it is stored safely in dark and cool places. Since it is unopened, there is no chance of oxidation or air contact; therefore, the Bourbon will not experience any negative effects which oxygen causes to alcohol.

Unfortunately, the opened Bourbon bottle starts losing its purity and quality in a couple of years, depending on its storage. If you see higher liquid content in the Bourbon bottle, it means it has suffered from oxidation, and the quality will degrade over time.

The opened bottle of Bourbon has a shelf life of one to two years. It is still safe to consume Bourbon after this time, but the quality and smoothness won’t be the same. Based on how well it is stored and the quality of Bourbon, it can keep its quality for a decade after opening.

Tip!: A bottle of Bourbon can keep its quality indefinitely in the pantry, whether opened or unopened.


Signs of Bourbon Spoilage | How do you tell if bourbon has gone bad?

What are the Signs of Spoilage in Bourbon

The bottle of Bourbon won’t spoil if it is stored properly. Since it is hard liquor with high alcohol content, it won’t go bad quickly. The bacteria that enter the bottle get killed automatically. But, if you have found an old bottle of Bourbon at your bar display, you must first look and see if it is still good for consumption or has gone bad. Here are a few signs of spoilage that you have to look for to know if it has gone bad or is still edible.

Color Changes

Bourbon has a characteristic sweet taste with a smoky flavor because of the charred oak. Since it is aged in wooden barrels for pigments, it has a rich brown color. But, when the Bourbon goes rancid, the rich brown color starts fading away.

The smoky, bold, sweet flavor gets dull when you pour the drink into your glass, indicating that the liquor has gone rancid and it is time to change the bottle.


Mold Growth

When you keep a bottle of Bourbon open for very long, the alcohol content evaporates quicker than water. As a result, mold starts growing in the Bourbon.

If you see any kind of mold growth on the surface of Bourbon, you must discard it immediately without consuming it.


Taste Change

The alcohol in the opened bottle of Bourbon evaporates quickly, and as it comes in contact with air, the content changes in taste. The flavor and smooth flavor of Bourbon degrades over time.

You must discard the bottle of Bourbon when the taste gets off, or it releases a different odor. It indicates that Bourbon has gone rancid, and it is not good to consume it.


Smell Test

To identify if your Bourbon has gone bad, you must conduct a smell test before tasting it. Discard it if you don’t experience Bourbon’s smooth taste and smell.

The Bourbon that has gone bad tends to release an unpleasant and sharp aroma instead of a smooth fragrance. You have to replace the bottle with new Bourbon in such a case.


What happens if you drink Bourbon that goes bad? Can Old Bourbon Make You Sick?

What Happens If You Consume Bad Bourbon

You don’t have to worry if you accidentally consume the old or bad Bourbon as it won’t make you sick. However, the flavor and taste of Bourbon may disappoint your palette. You are likely to experience an unpleasant taste and smell when you drink the bad Bourbon, especially because of an oxidative process it has undergone over time.

But you must store the opened bottle of Bourbon properly to enjoy the drink for years to come. Not many things are more undesirable than consuming old Bourbon, provided that it is appropriately stored as recommended.

Remember, the two-year-old Bourbon bottle won’t taste like a 20-year-old bottle. It is safe to drink the old Bourbon that has undergone a bit of oxidation. The decade-old Bourbon bottle is less likely to taste desirable.


Can You Freeze Bourbon? Refrigerated Vs. Shelf Stable

Can You Freeze Bourbon Refrigerated Vs. Shelf Stable

Bourbon has over 40% of alcohol content, and for such liquor, you don’t have to worry about freezing. According to Cocktail Contessa, you are not required to freeze your bottle of Bourbon.

However, if the situation demands, you may store your Bourbon bottle in a freezer. It will not impact the quality of the liquor. Unfortunately, the chilled temperature of a freezer may make the flavor dull to taste.

So, it is suggested that you must not freeze your Bourbon bottle, especially if you want to experience Bourbon’s rich, smooth, and sweet flavor.



Bourbon is not the liquor that needs a cool environment to keep its quality. So, it is not necessary to store your Bourbon bottle in a refrigerator or freezer.

Additionally, if you prefer drinking Bourbon cold, you must store it in your fridge. But, experts suggest that you must not refrigerate the bottle; instead, serve it at room temperature. Putting your Bourbon in a refrigerator won’t change or improve its taste and quality.

So, refrigerating your Bourbon bottle is not a good choice as the cold environment can ruin the flavors of the liquor over time. Use some whiskey stones to chill your drink without diluting the liquor like ice cubes.


Shelf Stable

Liquor like Bourbon is a shelf-stable whisky, and hence it keeps its quality when stored at room temperature. It is always best to store the Bourbon bottle in clear, dark, and safe places at room temperature.

But, ensure that it is not under direct sunlight or on a windowsill. The powerful rays of sunlight and other heat sources can dramatically alter the taste of your Bourbon over time.

So, it is absolutely fine to store your bottle of Bourbon at room temperature, both opened and unopened.


How to Store Bourbon?

What are the Best Methods to Store Bourbon

To avoid drain-pouring of your Bourbon, you must ensure proper storage. Since Bourbon is a type of liquor, you have to store it similarly. Below are a few helpful tips for storing Bourbon and prolonging its lifespan.


Store the Bottle in an Upright Position

Regardless of whether the bottle is opened or sealed, you must keep the Bourbon bottle upright when storing it. There is a higher alcohol content in Bourbon, and it may cause damage to the cork when the bottle is stored in an upside-down position.

So, you must be mindful when storing your Bourbon bottle and ensure storing it vertically to avoid alcohol coming into contact with the cork.


Store Away from Direct Sunlight

Regardless of the number of bottles you have at your bar display, you must ensure to keep the bottle away from the direct sunlight. Sunlight or any heat sources cause extreme damage to the liquor, and the flavor may fade away over time.

So, you have to ensure that it is stored away from sunlight and other heat sources to prolong its lifespan and sustain its flavor.


Store in Small Bottles

Transfer it to smaller bottles once your Bourbon bottle gets less than half-full. It is the strategy to reduce the oxidative effects. Transferring the remaining Bourbon into a smaller bottle will reduce air and oxygen.

The process will help prolong the shelf life and taste of the Bourbon and prevent the oxidative process from spoiling the liquor.


Use Whisky Rocks Instead of Refrigerating

No matter how hot and humid the day is, you must never refrigerate your Bourbon to chill the liquor. Bourbon can be best served with whisky rock at room temperature.

So, if you want to enjoy chilled Bourbon, ensure to use whisky rocks or ice cubes instead of refrigerating it.

What are the Alternatives to Bourbon if it has gone bad?

If you have guests over but your bottle of Bourbon has gone bad, you can use the following alternatives:

  • Rum
  • Brandy
  • Scotch Whiskey
  • Bourbon Vanilla Extract
  • Cognac

Frequently Asked Questions


How Long Can Bourbon Be Stored in a Shelf?

Bourbon can be sorted on a shelf for one to two years. The shelf life of the unopened bottle is more than the opened bottle. The unopened Bourbon bottle can last for decades, while the opened bottle will only last for one to two years before it expires. Look for the spoilage signs before consuming it.


Doesn’t Bourbon Get Better With Age?

In the first few years, the taste of Bourbon will enhance with age. The newly bottled Bourbon is not delicious. But, as it is aged for six to seven years, the taste enhances. But, the older Bourbon is not always better. Overdone Bourbon is not tasty to drink. So, an unopened bottle of Bourbon won’t get better with age.


Does Bourbon Go Rancid in Heat?

Although Bourbon has an indefinite shelf life, you must store it properly away from heat sources for quality purposes. You must store the bottle away from heat and light sources, whether opened or unopened. Apart from these two factors, oxidation is the process you have to take care of.

Can You Refrigerate or Freeze Vanilla Bourbon?

You need not refrigerate or freeze Vanilla Bourbon as such a storage method can affect its taste and overall quality. If you want to serve it cold, you can use ice cubes. But if you do not want to dilute it, you can use whiskey rocks.


Bourbon is the all-time favorite of many people. Whether you enjoy it on the rocks, neat, in cocktails, straight, or whatever in between, the most crucial thing you have to keep in mind is proper storage for the unopened and opened Bourbon bottle. It will prevent your Bourbon from going rancid quickly.

Despite having an indefinite shelf life, your Bourbon can go rancid in one to two years when it is opened. There are spoilage signs. Before using them, you have to look for spoilage signs and follow the proper storage methods to prolong shelf life.

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