I recently finished off a bottle of scotch that had been sitting on the shelf for some time with barely a half inch of whisky remaining. I was astounded at the changes from the last time I tasted it – a loss of zest and a general quelling of the whisky’s potency. The air in the bottle had infiltrated the whisky and dramatically changed its nose and flavours. I’ve heard many times of this happening to others, but I assumed this was only for bottles sitting on the shelves for decades. Apparently it doesn’t take nearly as long as I suspected, and we all should take precautions to preserve and protect our investments. Let’s talk a bit about these precautions:
If you google how to store scotch, you’ll find the same short article regurgitated throughout the internet. However, more research and reflection have lead me to the following suggestions:
1. Avoid light. Much like beer, scotch is often bottled in opaque bottles to prevent light from effecting its quality over time. If you have bottles that are clear, consider storing them in their boxes, or at the very least at the back of the cabinet where light permeates the least.
2. Avoid heat. Temperatures much above room temperature should be avoided. Much like storing wine (or beer for that matter), consider storing bottles in a cool place, making sure that temperature fluctuations are kept to a minimum.
3. Avoid wrecking the cork. Unlike wine, whisky is powerful enough to considerably degrade cork, so store your bottles rightside up. If you live in a very dry (or conversely very humid) part of the world, consider using a humidifier (or dehumidifier) to regulate the humidity to moderate values (~50%) to keep the cork in good shape. Dry corks will shrivel and lose their tight seal with the bottle, letting air in and potentially whisky out.
4. Avoid air. As mentioned above, oxidation is a concern for whiskies, particularly those that are kept open for a long time. John Hansell, a leading whisky expert, advocates the use of wine preservers – those bottles of compressed inert gases that you spray into the bottle before corking to displace the oxygen. An alternative would be to limit the number of open bottles you keep. Just as with wine, decanting rapidly exposes the liquid to oxygen, which while having a nice immediate effect, will dull the whisky over time.
5. Avoid spilling. The worst way to spoil a whisky is to break the bottle containing it. Get some sturdy shelving. Also, consider storing your expensive (unopened) bottles separately. Not only does this prevent all your eggs from being in one basket, but it also helps you drink your open bottles quicker (and not open new, expensive bottles). There’s nothing like having a friend open a bottle of 30+ year old not knowing its worth.
Whisky can take a fair bit of abuse so long as you avoid heat, light, and air. Follow the suggestions above and you’ll be enjoying drams from the same bottles for years (or at least months) to come.