Obviously I Am Not an Alcoholic
December 17, 2010 8:37 AM   Subscribe

How old is too old, with regards to my dusty liquor cabinet?

I am having a party tomorrow night, and will throw open my meager liquor cabinet for the occasion.

I am not much of a drinker and I do not come from a family that drinks regularly. My dad often had opened bottles of liquor in a cabinet for years on end.

I have both unopened and opened bottles of liquor. Can you tell me if these are okay to serve or does this sort of thing expire? Should I toss them out?

- unopened bottle of vodka, several years old
- unopened bottle of red wine, a couple of years old
- opened bottles of whiskey and rum and gin and others. They were opened several years ago.

They've been stored in a cabinet in a temperature-controlled house. Assume all alcohol is on the inexpensive side (Jim Beam whiskey, etc.)

I was thinking of baking fruitcake next week as well, so if the whiskey or rum should not be drunk but would be okay for baking, let me know.
posted by aabbbiee to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Any hard liquor that's unopened is no problem. The opened ones are highly likely to be fine as well, assuming the caps were on properly.

The wine I'd be less sure about. Some wines age well, and some don't. You could google the name of the wine and the year on the label and see what (if anything) wine reviews have to say about it. But it's safer to go out and spend ten bucks on a new bottle of wine.
posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on December 17, 2010

The vodka (if a decent quality) should be fine. The red wine needs to be smell checked.

The whiskey is likely fine. The rum will probably be foul. 50/50 on the gin.
posted by The Giant Squid at 8:41 AM on December 17, 2010

The only thing that might not be any good is the wine, the rest should be fine! And the wine will just taste off, not be dangerous or anything.
posted by Grither at 8:42 AM on December 17, 2010

The red wine is the only real contender in there for having gone bad, especially if it was stored upright. Open it about half an hour before the party and check the cork. If it smells like moldy socks and/or looks like this, then don't serve it to your guests.

As for the hard liquor, as long as the bottles have been properly resealed (so the alcohol can't evaporate) and they're being kept in the dark and at reasonable temperatures, they should be good for decades.
posted by 256 at 8:44 AM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: The wine is Red Truck brand Cabernet Sauvignon. How long can an unopened bottle of this type/cost be kept? A month or a few months, at most?

How long can I keep an opened bottle of hard liquor if the caps are on tight?
posted by aabbbiee at 8:47 AM on December 17, 2010

What's the year on the Red Truck?
posted by something something at 8:50 AM on December 17, 2010

To contradict something said above, the rum should be 100% ok. Properly sealed liquor can last decades. Don't leave the caps on loose, though.

I'd just go on the assumption that the wine has turned and that you should get a new bottle. Red Truck Cab is a $10 bottle (I don't know that label--it may be good, but it's cheap and no loss if it's turned). Get another bottle of wine.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:58 AM on December 17, 2010

Wine can be kept for decades if it's stored in cool conditions on its side, like in a wine cellar. Standing up at room temperature in a liquor cabinet, I wouldn't expect it to last longer than a year at most, unless it's a screw top.
posted by 256 at 9:02 AM on December 17, 2010

Oh and for unopened hard liquor: If it's kept in the dark at room temperature or below, it should outlast your lifetime.
posted by 256 at 9:04 AM on December 17, 2010

How long can an unopened bottle of this type/cost be kept? A month or a few months, at most?

I'd put it more in 'years or decades' at a guess. But just open it and smell it, already. If it's gone to vinegar, you'll be able to tell immediately. If it's gone moldy, you'll be able to tell even more immediately. If it's neither of those, then it's fine.

Cheap red wine stored at room temperature may not improve much with age, but it won't have gone corked even if you stored it upright (because the cheaper synthetic corks they use can't dry out and shrink the way real cork can.)

All the hard liquor will be perfectly ok, even if they've been opened. So says my parents' well-stocked but rarely-used bar; some of the bottles in there have been consumed at the rate of one cocktail per christmas for literally decades. Alcohol is a preservative, after all.
posted by ook at 9:22 AM on December 17, 2010

I would NOT serve several years old Red Truck Cabernet. That is really not the sort of wine people age.

Throw the cheap red wine out* and go on a wine run. Everything else should be fine. A friend has an opened bottle of decent tequila that is at least 5 years old, which he is still working on.

*Or, if you're a very confident cook, maybe turn it into a red wine vinaigrette for salad?
posted by Sara C. at 9:25 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everything but the wine is probably ok. Spirits don't develop at all in the bottle - at worst, the angels got their share (i.e., some of it evaporated). If the wine was stored on its side and turned occasionally, it might be fine, but cheap wines are typically the one's the vineyard expects not to age well, and they're nothing you want to serve guests when they're young, either.

If you're determined, smell the cork. If it smells foul, or like wet cardboard, toss the wine. Your best bet is, as Sara C. says, to toss it in the bin and get something else. I can't agree to the vinaigrette for salad though, it's not likely that the wine has turned to anything resembling a good vinegar.
posted by Hylas at 10:14 AM on December 17, 2010

Yeah, definitely throw out the wine.

My family is like yours, the type that rarely drinks. I remember a 30 bottle of gin coming out every five years or so for "special occasions."

I might serve some of these to guests as an oddity, if they're really old (funky labels, etc). But in the event that your guests are bigger drinkers than you are, it's worth it to make a run to a liquor store. For 75 bucks you could pick up a few hard liquors and a bottle of wine or two.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:16 AM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: I went home at lunch- it's a 2006 Red Truck wine (though I am certain I bought it in the past two years). I agree that it was cheap to begin with, and these are not really wine-drinking friends, so whatever! No problem.
I will just remember not to 'stock up' on wine just to have around in case of wine-drinking friends popping over. Even if this did ever happen, which it doesn't, I can run to the store.

Thanks everybody! I like the idea of having liquor around, which is more of an investment, so it's good that I can keep it in the cabinet for parties while rarely drinking it myself.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:47 AM on December 17, 2010

Your wine might not actually be all that old. I was under the impression that you were talking about wine you bought several years ago, but googling "Red Truck Cabernet 2006" produced a review site with reviews as recent as this past May.

In wine, the year on the front isn't a sell-by date, it's the year the grapes were harvested. Different wines are aged for different amounts of time before being bottled, but a 2006 wine isn't all that old for a Cabernet, even a mediocre one. I just checked my dad's "Stuff You Are Allowed To Touch" shelf (he's a wine geek, I'm home for a visit), and there is in fact a 2006 Cab in there.

My best guess is that you picked it up for your last Holiday party. In which case it's probably fine. You should at least open it and see.
posted by Sara C. at 11:05 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wait! It's Christmas, you can mull that red wine! Simmer it with a few cloves, cinnamon sticks, throw in a wedge or two of orange, serve hot.
posted by cyndigo at 11:42 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Adding both dry and sweet vermouths to your collection (if they're not lumped in under the "and others" category) will allow your guests to have martinis, Manhattans, and other such cocktails beyond straight booze. The caveat being that vermouths are wine-based spirits, and while they'll do ok at room temperature for a good while, you'd probably want to refrigerate 'em after opening, since it sounds like you're unlikely to go through a bottle very quickly.

Also, dry vermouth can be great for deglazing pans and whatnot when cooking, if, being not-much-of-a-drinker, you don't tend to have white wines conveniently to hand.
posted by mumkin at 1:06 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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