How to Store Liquor to Keep It at Its Best
What goes in the refrigerator and what will last a long time at room temperature.
Want to shake a better cocktail? Stocking a stellar home bar is only half the equation. Storing spirits the right way is important to provide the best taste and experience. Most liquor has a high-enough alcohol content to be kept at room temperature, either in a cabinet or on a bar cart but as Julie Reiner, co-owner of the Clover Club and author of The Craft Cocktail Party: Delicious Drinks For Every Occasion ($15.84, amazon.com), notes, the most important thing is to keep bottles out of direct sunlight. The other thing to note is that once a bottle is opened, oxygen is introduced and flavors start to degrade. This is called oxidation and with more delicate liquors it happens faster than with higher proof spirits.
What should go in the fridge? "Many people like to keep their vodka and gin in the freezer for maximum chill on their martinis," she says. "Cream liquors are another category that most people keep in the fridge." Other than that, the label should tell you if refrigeration is necessary after opening. Reiner recommends storing wine-based aperitifs—sherry, vermouth, port, Lillet—in the fridge to extend their life. Here's a rundown of how to store different types of alcohol according to experts who work with them.
"We've done in-house shelf-life testing on our Bali Hai Tiki Monkey," says Gwen Conley, director of innovation for Cutwater Spirits, "and found that the intended flavors are lost after a year." She adds, "Once you open a bottle of cream liqueur, you do not have to store it in the refrigerator, but doing so can help preserve the flavors for a longer period of time."
It's considered an alcoholic liqueur, which means that Campari can be stored at room temperature in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Daniel Warrilow of Campari America explains, "It is not necessary to refrigerate liqueurs which are spirit based and they usually have a high enough sugar content so they will not oxidize."
"Avoid direct sunlight as well as temperature variations," says Hendrick's Gin Ambassador Mark Stoddard. "Light from lamps or fixtures will not affect the liquid." And store gin at a little cooler than room temperature if possible.
"Like any high-proof distilled spirit, rum has a very long shelf-life—you don't have to worry about an expiration date," says Conley. "Most people store spirits at room temperature and upright and it's a good idea to keep unopened bottles sealed tightly."
"Room temperature is best for tequila," says Neil Grosscup, Tanteo Tequila master blender and CEO. "While liquor will not spoil in the same way as beer or wine, tequila can lose a bit of its agave herbaceousness after 18 months." If you are going to keep tequila longer, Grosscup advises storing it in a dark place "but as long as you are drinking the bottle regularly, this is not necessary."
Ideally vermouth, along with other wine-based aperitifs, should be stored in the refrigerator once opened which will extend its life to about a year says Edoardo Branca, managing director of Branca USA. Another benefit: Storing in the fridge means "you don't have to dilute it down as much before adding it to your favorite cocktail or sipping it neat." Vermouth that is not refrigerated will last from one to three weeks depending on the brand.
"Vodka can be kept at room temperature (and often is)," says Jonathan Hemi of Crystal Head Vodka. He prefers to store his bottle in the freezer "so it is always cold and ready to use."
"Unlike wine, whisky does not change in the bottle so as long as it's stored correctly there is no expiration data," says Raquel Raies, national brand ambassador for The Macallan. She recommends "storing at lower than room temperature, in darkness, and with the bottle standing up to protect the cork." She does note that open bottles should not be left with a lot of air in them for too long as this can oxidize the whisky. And that a decanter is a beautiful way to showcase whisky but not a suitable way to store whisky for longer periods of time as it will expose it to air and light.