Should You Use a Decanter for Your Favorite Spirits?

Some spirits are better-suited to decanting than others; find out when it makes the most sense to use one.

whiskey in crystal decanters
Photo: Manny Rodriguez / Getty Images

Whether you've been gifted a decanter or treated yourself to a set you've been eyeing for ages, you might be wondering that to do with this new piece of barware. Decanting wine is a tricky proposition, but these decorative vessels, often made of crystal, are excellent for holding pretty much any kind of alcoholic spirit. We're here to share the four things you need to know before you go ahead and decant that favorite whisky.

What Spirits Can You Decant?

While you likely wouldn't want to decant a bottle of wine, you really can decant pretty much any spirit. Spirits are less reactive to oxygen than wine, which means their flavor profiles won't differ much whether the spirit is stored in a decanter or the original bottle it came in. Just know that decanting spirits is not a functional exercise; it will not improve the spirit's taste, but it won't do any harm to the spirit as long as the closure is airtight. The benefit of decanting is an aesthetic one. You can create a cohesive look on your home bar by removing the bottles from their mismatched, branded packaging and placing them into a set of beautiful decanters.

Common spirits used in a decanter are:

  • Whisky
  • Bourbon
  • Rye
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Brandy
  • Cognac
  • Armagnac
  • Vodka
  • Gin

What to Avoid

Many of the most beautiful spirits decanters you see on bars are made of crystal. Intricate patterns are cut into light-catching designs, making them sparkle on your bar cartand welcoming you come happy hour. While these are undeniably beautiful, be mindful of what type of decanter you use for spirits—lead crystal decanters contain small amounts of lead that will leech into the spirits over time. If you're thinking about purchasing a decanter, focus on lead-free options. And if you already own a lead crystal decanter, use it to hold liquor for shorter periods time; ideally, these should be used for no longer than a few days at a time.

How Long Can You Leave Spirits in a Decanter?

Unlike wine, which oxidizes into vinegar in just a few days, spirits can last years in a decanter. Best practice, though, is to try and consume your decanted spirit sooner than that that. Prolonged storage (that's over two years) in a decanter will probably produce some discoloration and loss of flavor intensity. If your spirit is still in the unopened package that it was purchased in, it can last decades.

What to Look Out For

Watch out for mold, mildew, dust, and any foreign floaters that appear in your decanter. If you notice any of these, toss the remaining liquid, clean your decanter, and double check that the closure still meets tightly with the base of the decanter when closed. If air is able to penetrate your spirit when the bottle is closed, it's time to replace your decanter. If your decanter still has an airtight seal, refill it with your next spirit of choice for a renewed addition to your bar.

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