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How to Store Bourbon

How to Store Bourbon

When storing bourbon, applying the same rules used to store wine bottles is common. Don't do this!! Storing bourbon, both unopened and opened bottles, has different storage rules to preserve its quality. This article will walk you through the best practices and dos and don'ts of whiskey storage.

How to store unopened bottles

When storing a sealed bottle of bourbon, consider the two dangers: light and temperature. Light and significant temperature changes will cause chemical reactions in your bourbon, changing its flavor profile. While the ABV of lower-proof bourbons and higher-proof bourbons will remain the same, it will taste like a low-quality whiskey after time has passed. 

The best place to store unopened bottles of bourbon is in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight. However, before you do, there are a few things to remember.

A whiskey bottle should be stored in an upright position

The best way to store bourbon is to keep the bottle standing upright, unlike wine, which is stored on its side. You should store bottles upright to protect the cork. If the bourbon's high alcohol content is in contact with the cork for an extended period, it will destroy it.

Cork maintenance

Although you should never store the bottle on its side, it's a good idea to tilt your bottles to a horizontal position occasionally, especially if you're keeping it for a long time. You should turn bottles on their side every three to four months and allow the bourbon to soak the cork. This will keep the cork from drying out and deteriorating.

Avoid direct sunlight

Exposing bourbon whiskey to direct sunlight can lead to temperature fluctuation, harming the taste of your bourbon. Storing bourbon in a basement, closet, or cabinet with no direct sunlight is recommended.

Store bourbon at room temperature

The ideal bourbon storage location maintains a consistent temperature, especially a location absent of extreme heat. Temperature extremes can lead to evaporation resulting in a loss of volume, which will lead to unpleasant flavors. Therefore, you should avoid storing your bourbon in an attic, garage, outdoor bar, or other locations where heat could jeopardize the taste of your bourbon.

Storing a bourbon bottle in a cool place is acceptable, but bourbon should not be refrigerated as it does not enhance the flavor. Many of the aromas of whiskey are lost when stored in a fridge. 

Creating a Whiskey Display

Whiskey Bottle Display

Have you ever run out for a loaf of bread and come home with three bottles of bourbon? Yeah, that happens to me more than I'd care to admit. Bourbon collections can accumulate fast; often, these bottles are kept hidden away in a liquor cabinet awaiting a special occasion.

You should be proud of your collection and show it off! A great way to do this is with a whiskey display. There are many great options, from pre-built racks to DIY shelving. Whatever you choose, ensure the shelves are sturdy and deep and not placed in a high-traffic area. Lighting is a great way to accentuate the rich color of bourbon and labels; make sure to choose light sources that won't warm the contents of your bottles.

Last but not least - dust your bottles!

Long term storage

Suppose you're like me; accumulating an extensive collection of bourbon bottles is easy. When I come across a hard-to-find bourbon at the liquor store, I usually buy it, even if I already have it in my collection. I'll also pick up bourbon in advance of holidays and gatherings that I know that my guests enjoy. This leads to having a lot of bottles on hand.

Bourbon bottles and labels present a great visual. I use a few empty liquor bottle boxes to store excess bottles, especially those duplicates of the bottles I keep on display or have open. This helps protect the labels and keeps them from getting ripped or scuffed.

If you're collecting high-priced bottles of bourbon, you should consider added security. There are many options for lockable liquor cabinets, bars, and rooms. There are also commercial liquor storage services if you want added peace of mind, as with any valuable asset. Make sure you have the proper documentation and appraisals in case of an emergency.

Did you know that you can insure your bourbon collection? Many companies will insure your collection if you're a whiskey enthusiast with an eye toward high-end bourbon.

How to Store Open Bottles

When I first started collecting bourbon, I would open more bottles than I needed. It's a common dilemma for a whiskey drinker. So you get a new bottle that you are excited about, and even though you already have multiple bottles open, you open another.

The rule of thumb for whiskey is that it's best to finish it within two months. I always think about this when opening a whiskey bottle. When oxygen is introduced to bourbon when opened, it oxidizes, adversely affecting its taste.

The one-third mark

Oxidation is the enemy of your bourbon. Unopened bottles of bourbon have an indefinite shelf life, but the shelf life of bourbon once opened has different rules. As you start to drink a full bottle of whiskey, you create more headspace. This allows more oxygen to enter the bottle leading to oxidation. This will dull the flavor of the bourbon and harm its flavor profile.

When I have a bottle that is only one-third full, I typically look to finish it as soon as possible and not keep it for a long time. It will be the first bottle I grab when I have a cocktail and the bottle I share with friends. If you time it correctly with your bourbon buddies, you can have a last-pour party and share the final drams of your favorite bourbons.

Smaller glass bottles

Whiskey Tasting Bottles

Another strategy to reduce oxidation is to pour your nearly empty bottles into a smaller bottler. There are a lot of great whiskey decanters that would work, or you could use a glass mason jar. Clear glass is best, and a smaller bottle with an air-tight deal is ideal for quality purposes.

Should you use a whiskey decanter?

Bourbon Whiskey Decanter

Wine decanters are typically large, elaborate in design, and lack a lid. On the other hand, decanters intended for bourbon are sturdy with a heavy, stable base.

Today, whiskey decanters are for aesthetics, but this wasn't always the case. In the old days, when you would get whiskey from an oak barrel, you needed a container to pour into and transport. So that's where the decanter came into play.

On television or in a movie, you often see a decanter used on a bar chart in the office of a company executive, think Mad Men, and although we don't promote drinking in the workplace, it does look pretty cool. Decanters are great in non-traditional settings. For example, a fancy whiskey decanter looks excellent in a den or rec room.

Similar to an opened bottle, as long as you plan on drinking your bourbon within two months, a decanter won't hurt the taste of your bourbon. Just follow the same storage best practices as an opened bottle.

Putting it all together

Storing a bottle of bourbon is very different than storing a bottle of wine, and there are different rules for open bottles of bourbon and sealed bottles. However, when in doubt, follow these rules, and you'll be in good shape:

  1. Store your bottles upright.
  2. Keep your whiskey away from high temperatures and temperature fluctuations.
  3. Finish opened bottles within two months of being opened.
  4. Don't hide your them off!
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