Does alcohol have expiry date?

Quick answer

Alcohol does technically expire and go bad, but it takes a very long time. Unopened bottles of wine, distilled spirits like vodka and whiskey, and beer can all last years or even decades before expiring if stored properly. However, once opened, alcoholic beverages have a shorter shelf life of about 1-3 years before expiring. The alcohol content serves as a preservative to slow oxidation and spoilage. Over time, alcohol can lose flavor, aroma, and color but it takes a very long time to turn harmful or undrinkable.

Does unopened alcohol expire?

Unopened bottles and cans of alcoholic beverages can last for many years past any ‘best by’ or expiration dates printed on the label. This is because alcohol has preserving properties that prevent spoilage and oxidation. Here is how long unopened alcohol lasts:

  • Beer – 2 to 5 years or more if high-alcohol
  • Wine – 2 to 5 years, or 10 to 20 years for high-quality wines
  • Distilled spirits like vodka, rum, tequila, and whiskey – indefinite; lasts for decades

Over time, unopened alcoholic beverages slowly deteriorate and lose their flavor and aroma. Beer oxidizes and goes stale. Wine’s complex aromas fade and the taste becomes dull. Eventually they cross the threshold from safe but not optimal to undrinkable. However, this takes many years past the printed date.

Proper storage is key to maximizing an alcohol’s shelf life. Store bottles upright and out of direct sunlight and heat to slow oxidation. Wine should be stored on its side to keep the cork moist and seal intact. Refrigeration also slows deterioration but is not required.

As long as alcohol is stored properly and the container remains sealed and intact, unopened alcohol lasts indefinitely, but it will slowly deteriorate. Most alcohol is still safe and drinkable for years after the ‘expires by’ date, but lower quality.

What happens as alcohol expires?

As alcoholic beverages slowly expire over time, even if unopened, they undergo changes in quality:

– Oxidation: Oxygen interacts with compounds in the alcohol, causing stale, cardboard, or sherry-like flavors. All alcohol oxidizes over time, especially beer and wine.

– Loss of aroma and flavor: Volatile aromatic compounds that give drinks distinct flavors and smells evaporate and dissipate over time. Drinks taste flatter and more uniform.

– Color fading: Pigments that give wine rich ruby colors slowly degrade and fade to a brown or amber color.

– Sedimentation: Yeast and other particles precipitate out causing cloudiness and affecting texture.

While undesirable, these quality changes do not necessarily make alcohol dangerous to drink. Only under extreme neglect does alcohol expire to the point of becoming toxic. The alcoholic content preserves it against microbial spoilage.

Does alcohol go bad once opened?

Once opened, alcoholic beverages have a much shorter shelf life. Oxidation accelerates once exposed to air, and wines or beers also risk contamination. Generally, opened alcohol lasts:

– Beer: 4 to 6 months
– Wine: 1 to 3 years
– Distilled spirits: 2 to 4 years or more

Once again, proper storage helps extend the shelf life. Refrigeration and resealing bottles slows oxidation and spoilage. For wine, special vacuum stoppers and inert gas sprays prevent oxygen exposure. But overall, consume opened alcohol within a few months to a few years for the best flavor. Discard any alcohol that smells or tastes off.

Signs that opened alcohol has expired include:
– Flat or very sharp acidic taste
– Oxidized, sherry-like flavors
– Cloudy appearance and sediment
– Growing mold or yeast
– Cork taint smell (trichloroanisole)

Do spirits like vodka and whiskey expire?

Distilled spirits like vodka, rum, tequila, and whiskey have the longest shelf lives of all alcoholic beverages, thanks to their high alcohol content. They can last for decades when sealed. Over time, whiskey and other aged spirits may see changes in flavor and aroma as they interact with oxygen through the bottle, but they remain safe to drink indefinitely.

However, once opened, spirits last about 2 to 4 years before deteriorating in quality. Properly resealing bottles helps extend the shelf life. Signs that spirits have expired include fading aromas, increased burn, and unpleasant flavors. But they remain safe to consume.

In comparison, liqueurs, vermouth, and other low-alcohol mixers spoil more quickly at about 1 to 2 years after opening. Their lower alcohol content means less preservative ability.

How to tell if alcohol has gone bad?

It can be difficult to tell if unopened bottles of alcoholic beverages have gone bad or expired just from looking. However, these signs indicate opened bottles have spoiled and should be discarded:

– Chunks or particles floating – Sediment is normal, but mold, yeast, and other chunks indicate contamination.

– Vinegary, acidic smell – This suggests acetic acid bacteria took hold, making vinegar.

– Bitter, unpleasant medicinal taste – Flavors have deteriorated.

– Significantly altered color – Especially if cloudy or murky.

– Flat or lack of carbonation – Beer should still contain fizz and bubbles.

– Major changes to aromas – Aged spirits lose some aroma notes but still retain a signature smell profile over decades. Drastic aroma changes indicate spoilage.

– Slimy texture – Bacteria and yeast growth alters the drink’s viscosity.

– Cork degradation – Sign of oxidation.

– Ring around bottle mouth – “Tide line” effect that suggests bacterial contamination.

Is expired alcohol dangerous to drink?

Consuming spoiled or expired alcoholic beverages is generally not dangerous, just unpleasant. The high alcohol content prevents most pathogenic microbes from growing.

However, some hazards of drinking expired alcohol include:

– Foodborne illness – Spoiled wine or beer could potentially harbor Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, or other pathogens if severely contaminated.

– Toxic methanol – In improperly distilled spirits, ethanol alcohol breaks down over time into toxic methanol.

– Lead poisoning – Lead-containing glass decanters or lead capsules interact with acidic drinks over decades.

Unless you experience symptoms or know the beverage was distilled incorrectly, the worst that can happen is bad flavors, stomach upset, or a hangover. But when in doubt, do not take risks with severely aged, spoiled, or improperly stored alcohol.

How to store alcohol properly?

To extend the shelf life of any alcoholic beverage:

– Store bottles upright and tightly sealed.

– Keep away from heat and light, which accelerate spoilage.

– Refrigerate if possible – Fridge temperatures between 35-40°F are ideal.

– Wines should be stored at an angle to keep the corks moist.

– Take note of the producer’s recommended storage instructions.

– Higher-alcohol and higher-quality beverages have longer shelf lives. Concentrate on proper storage for fine wines or aged spirits you wish to keep for years.

With proper storage, most alcohol lasts for many years unopened, and 1-3 years once opened. Though alcohol does not necessarily “expire”, its taste and quality slowly degrade over time. To enjoy alcoholic drinks at their peak, consume within a few years of bottling, and within months of opening.

Can expired alcohol make you sick?

Drinking expired alcoholic beverages is very unlikely to cause food poisoning or severe illness. Alcohol’s antibacterial properties prevent pathogenic microbes from growing. However, there are a few risks of drinking spoiled alcohol:

– Stomach upset – Spoiled alcohol can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

– Toxic methanol – Improperly distilled spirits contain methanol, which is poisonous in high amounts. But this is rare.

– Bacterial growth – Severely contaminated alcoholic drinks could potentially harbor Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Acetobacter, or other bacteria that cause foodborne disease. However, this is uncommon since alcohol prevents microbial growth. Properly brewed and stored beer, wine, and spirits are unlikely to harbor dangerous pathogens.

– Allergic reactions – Moldy or spoiled alcohol can provoke allergy symptoms in sensitive individuals.

– Sensitivity reaction – Some people are sensitive to changes in aged alcohol. Expired wine may provoke headaches.

So while it’s not very likely, severely spoiled alcoholic beverages could potentially cause illness in sensitive people or if severely contaminated. But in most cases, drinking expired alcohol just delivers an unpleasant taste.

Will expired alcohol get you drunk?

Expired and oxidized alcoholic drinks generally retain their alcoholic potency over time. The ethanol alcohol content does not degrade quickly.

An expired ale, wine, or spirit can most certainly still get you intoxicated. However, the taste defects make the drinking experience unpalatable.

Alcoholic drinks continue to provide a buzz long after their flavors and aromas deteriorate. But at a certain point, they become too unpalatable to drink in quantities capable of intoxication.

So you can still get drunk from old alcohol, but the off-flavors and poor taste profile generally limit consumption. Additionally, alcohol content can potentially concentrate over time as water evaporates through the cork or lid. So aged wine or whisky could pack more of a punch!

What is the shelf life of various alcoholic beverages?

Beverage Shelf Life Sealed Shelf Life After Opening
Beer 2 to 5 years or more if high-alcohol 4 to 6 months
Wine 2 to 5 years, or 10 to 20 years for high-quality wines 1 to 3 years
Champagne and sparkling wines 3 to 5 years 1 to 2 days
Distilled spirits like vodka, rum, whiskey Indefinite; decades 2 to 4+ years
Liqueurs 2 to 3 years 1 to 2 years
Wine coolers 1 to 2 years 3 to 6 months
Cocktail mixes 2 to 3 years 1 year

How long does red wine last once opened?

An opened bottle of red wine stored properly will usually remain drinkable for 1 to 3 years before expiring. Simple, young red wines last on the shorter end, while complex vintages and wines higher in alcohol last longer. Proper storage to minimize oxygen exposure is key for extending opened red wine’s shelf life. Keep it refrigerated and sealed using special vacuum stoppers. Generally, drink leftover red wine within a few days to weeks for the freshest taste. After about 3-5 days, it starts to lose its aromatic vibrancy. An opened bottle of red wine lasting longer than a month will progressively deteriorate in flavor and aroma before eventually expiring after 1-3 years. Signs that opened red wine has gone bad include a brownish color, muddy appearance, sour vinegary smell, oxidized sherry flavors, and lack of fruitiness. But an opened bottle stored optimally should retain decent taste for at least 6 months to a year, or up to 3 years for high quality wines.

Does Tequila go bad?

Unopened tequila has an indefinite shelf life and can last for decades without going bad thanks to its high alcohol content. It continues aging in the bottle, taking on more oak and vanilla flavors, but remains safe to drink. Once opened, tequila lasts about 2 to 5 years before going bad. After opening, store it in a cool, dark place and tightly reseal the bottle to maximize its shelf life. Signs tequila has spoiled include fading aromas, change in color, off flavors, and loss of oily viscosity. But tequila’s high alcohol helps prevent microbial contamination, so even expired tequila is unlikely to make you sick if consumed. To enjoy tequila at its freshest, drink blanco varieties within a few months of opening, and extra anejo tequilas within a few years of opening. With proper storage, tequila lasts indefinitely unopened or up to 5 years opened.

How long does white wine last opened?

Opened white wine stored properly will usually stay drinkable for 1 to 2 years before going bad. Simple, young white wines last on the shorter end, while complex oaked chardonnays and wines higher in alcohol last longer. Proper refrigeration and sealing is key to prevent oxidation. Generally, drink leftover opened white wine within 2 to 3 days for the best freshness. After about 5 days, it starts to lose fruitiness and aromas. An opened bottle of white wine lasting longer than a few weeks will progressively deteriorate. Signs that opened white wine has spoiled include a brown or yellow color, sour smell, flat or vinegary taste, and lack of fruitiness. But a well-stored opened white wine can retain decent taste for at least 6 months to a year, thanks to the preserving power of alcohol. Sweet dessert wines last the longest around 2 years after opening.


In summary, while alcoholic beverages can eventually expire and go bad, their high alcohol content allows them to remain shelf stable and safe to drink for many years if properly stored. Unopened beer, wine, and spirits remain at peak quality for at least a couple years past any expiration date, but will slowly deteriorate over the following decades. Once opened, alcoholic drinks last 1-3 years before their taste fully deteriorates. Refrigeration and resealing opened bottles helps extend their drinkability. While not very likely to be dangerous, truly spoiled alcoholic drinks can potentially cause illness, stomach upset, or allergic reactions in sensitive people. The worst that will happen to most people is an unpleasant taste and hangover. Checking for changes in appearance, aroma, and flavor helps indicate if an alcoholic beverage has expired and gone bad. With optimal storage and consumption within a few years of production or opening, alcoholic beverages can be enjoyed at peak quality and safety.

Leave a Comment