Some call it the true American Spirit, an authentic representation of tradition and an honest product of good old-fashioned hard work. Known simply as bourbon, it is one of the most revered spirits in the world.
Before diving into the best way to store bourbon, let’s take a closer look at how bourbon is made and what factors can affect its flavor and quality. Bourbon is made from a mixture of grains, including at least 51% corn, that are fermented and distilled. It is then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years, during which time it takes on the flavors and aromas of the wood. Once the bourbon is bottled, it stops aging, but its flavor can still change depending on how it is stored.
Of course, owning a bottle of quality bottle of bourbon entails some degree of responsibility in caring for it properly. This includes storing it in a manner befitting such a revered spirit.
Whether you plan on purchasing a prized bottle or a crate of your favorite brand, you owe it to yourself to learn how to store it in a way that preserves its best qualities. Here are some tips on keeping bourbon to enjoy it to the fullest when you finally crack the seal.
Tips for storing your newly-purchased bourbon
- Keep your bourbon at room temperature: Keeping it in the fridge until you are ready to drink it might seem like a good idea. But most experts agree that storing it at room temperature is the best option.
- Why shouldn’t you refrigerate bourbon? Keeping spirits in frigid environments can alter its flavor considerably. Keeping the bottle on a shelf, cupboard, or in a liquor cabinet would be best if you want to preserve the taste as the distiller intended.
- Keep the bottle upright. Some wines are best stored horizontally or at an angle. Not so with bourbon, which is best kept standing upright. Laying your bottle down on its side will drench the cork in the fiery liquid. This will eventually melt the natural wax and impart unpleasant flavors to the spirit.
- Store the bottle in a cool, dark place. As with all spirits, keeping your bourbon away from heat and sunlight is advisable. Again, this will better preserve the taste and color, so you can enjoy your drink to the fullest when the right time comes.
Ideal Storage Conditions for Bourbon:
The ideal storage conditions for bourbon are similar to those for wine and other spirits. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Temperature: Bourbon should be stored at room temperature or slightly below, between 60-65°F (15-18°C). Fluctuations in temperature can cause the bourbon to expand and contract, which can lead to leaks or damage to the cork.
- Light: Bourbon should be stored away from direct sunlight, as exposure to UV rays can cause the bourbon to break down and lose its flavor.
- Humidity: Bourbon should be stored in a cool, dark, and humid place, ideally between 55-70% humidity. This helps prevent the cork from drying out and allows the bourbon to age gracefully.
- Air: Avoid storing bourbon in a place with strong odors or near anything that emits strong odors, as bourbon can absorb odors from its surroundings.
Storing opened bottles of bourbon
Of course, you can hardly be blamed for wanting to taste your prized bottle of bourbon, even if you don’t necessarily plan on finishing the entire bottle. What is the best way to preserve the rest of the liquor? Here are some suggestions:
Don’t wait too long to finish the rest. Ideally, you will want to consume all the bourbon within a few months after opening it. Like all spirits, bourbon continues to oxidize after you open the bottle. If you let it sit for too long, it will lose a lot of the flavor and color that makes it so special.
Replace the cork. The cork that initially came with your bottle of bourbon generally does a great job of preserving the spirit’s quality. But it’s another matter entirely after you crack the seal.
To ensure the continued high quality of your liquor, consider replacing the cork with one of those stoppers commonly used with wine bottles. They won’t crumble and disintegrate like cork and won’t add any weird flavors to the spirit.
Putting your bottle of bourbon on display
Some bottles of bourbon are so beautiful and striking that they are almost works of art in their own right. If you are one of those bourbon enthusiasts for whom the bottle’s look is just as important as its contents, you will probably want to display your cherished spirit flatteringly.
A glass case or a traditional wooden display cabinet is a great way to show off your bourbon and other spirits. Depending on your bottle’s value, you may even want to fit the case with strategically positioned spotlights.
Whatever you decide, it would be best to keep your bottles out of reach of young children and pets. Make sure that any shelf holding spirits is high enough so kids can’t bump into it or reach the bottle.
Of course, the same basic rules for storing spirits apply. Keep the bottles away from direct sunlight and temperature extremes. It is also advisable to dust the case periodically so that your bourbon looks as impressive as the day you took it home.
Positioning Your Bourbon Bottles:
The position of your bourbon bottles can also affect their flavor and quality over time. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Upright: Store unopened bourbon bottles upright to prevent the cork from drying out.
- Horizontal: Store opened bourbon bottles on their sides to maximize surface contact between the bourbon and the cork, which can help prevent oxidation.
- Avoid shaking: Avoid shaking your bourbon bottles, as this can cause air bubbles to form and potentially damage the cork.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Storing Bourbon:
Here are some common mistakes to avoid when storing bourbon:
- Storing in the fridge or freezer: While some people may believe that storing bourbon in the fridge or freezer can help preserve its flavor, this is actually not recommended. The extreme cold can cause the bourbon to lose its flavor and aroma, and the fluctuating temperature can cause the cork to expand and contract, leading to leaks and damage.
- Storing in a warm place: Storing bourbon in a warm place, such as near a heat source or in a sunny room, can cause the bourbon to age too quickly and lose its flavor and aroma.
- Storing in an upright position for too long: While storing unopened bourbon bottles upright is recommended, storing them in that position for too long can cause the cork to dry out and shrink, allowing air to enter the bottle and spoil the bourbon.
- Storing in a crowded or dusty place: Storing bourbon bottles in a crowded or dusty place can cause them to get bumped around or covered in dust, potentially causing damage to the cork or altering the flavor of the bourbon.
Storing bourbon properly is essential to maintaining its complex flavor and aroma. By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can ensure that your bourbon is stored in the ideal conditions and will be enjoyed for years to come. Remember to store your bourbon in a cool, dark, humid place, avoid exposure to sunlight and strong odors, and properly position your bottles. By avoiding common mistakes and storing your bourbon carefully, you can enjoy the smooth, delicious taste of this classic American whiskey.
Can you store bourbon in a decanter?
Yes, you can store bourbon in a decanter as long as it is made of non-reactive glass or crystal and has an airtight seal.
Can bourbon go bad?
Bourbon does not spoil or go bad, but it can lose its flavor and aroma over time if not stored properly.
How long can you store bourbon?
Unopened bourbon can be stored for an indefinite amount of time if stored properly. Once opened, bourbon should be consumed within a year.
Can you store bourbon in plastic bottles?
Boring bourbon in plastic bottles is not recommended, as they can react with alcohol and alter the flavor.