You have just received a great bottle of whiskey. And you really want to pop it open and taste the goodness, however, you can’t help but wonder if perhaps you should hold off and wait. As far as you know, your unopened whiskey might just get better over time.
You ask yourself: Does whiskey improve and taste better if aged in the bottle?
Whiskey does not get better if left to age inside an unopened bottle. After the whiskey enters the bottle and is sealed, the aging essentially ends. As long as the bottle is unopened, the flavor and color of the whiskey won’t change. Even an open bottle of whiskey won’t noticeably alter its profile.
The Aging Process
Whiskey is stored in large wooden barrels during its aging process. This enables the drink to extract sugars and tannins from the wood itself and to gain that beautiful caramel color. The longer the whiskey is aged, the better it tastes.
Bourbon is aged in new, charred oak barrels. Bourbon can be aged for just a few months or a couple of years. Some are even aged for decades.
Whiskeys, on the other hand, do not need to be aged in new, charred oak barrels. They can be aged in used or uncharred oak barrels. Some whiskeys, like those made primarily from corn, do not need to be aged.
In the aging process, different countries have different rules for what is considered properly aged whiskey. In fact, Scotland doesn’t allow for a drink to be called ‘whisky’ until it has been aged for three years and one day.
Once this aging process in barrels is over, the whiskey is packed into bottles and the aging effectively ends.
Experts say that the perfect age range for a good whiskey is between 8-10 years, claiming that over-aged whiskeys can become too much saturated with the taste of the wood they’ve been inside.
What About an Open Bottle of whiskey?
If whiskey can’t age in a closed bottle, is there an aging effect on an open bottle of whiskey?
Oxygen is the main perpetrator in altering the taste of drinks and causing oxidation. However, for distilled spirits like whiskey, this isn’t really a big deal.
The good thing about whiskey is that once opened it can hold for up a long time, while a wine bottle must be finished in a matter of days. As long as the whiskey bottle is kept in a cool, dark area out of direct sun, it’ll be great to enjoy for years to come.
The Old Bottle Effect
We’ve all seen unopened wines and other distilled spirits from a hundred years ago sell for enormous amounts of money as collector’s items. Does this “aging” affect the liquid inside?
There is a phenomenon described by some experts as the “old bottle effect,” or OBE. This effect causes the drink inside of the bottle to change its flavor due to the slow seepage of oxygen into the bottle.
According to experts, OBE is more prevalent in wine, changing the fruity flavors into more nuttier tones. However, this doesn’t really have a significant effect on whiskeys due to its high alcohol content. It is also largely dependent on how well the bottle is sealed — cork or screw cap.
If there is significant exposure to oxygen, light and temperature fluctuations, then even the unopened whiskey is susceptible to change, however unnoticeable it may be.
The differences in whiskey flavor and color really depend on the type of wood it was aged in. But once it is in a bottle, aging is finished. The flavor or color won’t change in an unopened bottle of whiskey, although it is best to keep it in a cool, dark place away from sunlight.
The thing is, you really shouldn’t be worried about keeping the unopened bottle of your whiskey and trying to “age” it.