Bourbon In A Decanter: Does Bourbon Go Bad In A Decanter?

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When you buy a bottle of bourbon, you are not expected to finish it all overnight unless you have a lot of friends over. The standard serving size of bourbon is 1.5 oz. in every glass so there will definitely be some left after you have taken a glass or two. Let us assume that you store the remaining bourbon in a decanter and put it in your cabinet and decide not to partake for the next couple of nights. Are you confident that it will be fine as stored in the cabinet for a couple of months or will you be worried that it will go bad? Let’s find out.

To all those who love bourbon and tend to keep it in a huge number, the underlying concern is: will bourbon go bad? It seems like a really simple question but there has been a lot of debate about the answer. You may have heard a thing or two about distilled alcohols and spirits, for instance, they get even better with age and the more expensive they are going to be. 

There is some truth to this and the explanation is that the wood of the barrels where the alcohol is stored break down the rougher flavors and there is the natural evaporation of liquid into the atmosphere over time, thereby making it smoother and more flavorful. Take note though that the storage is sealed in barrels and not opened. So if you’re thinking that it’s okay to have your opened bottle of bourbon stashed in a cabinet somewhere without putting it any thought as to how you have stored it, think again. 

To answer the question, technically, bourbon and other distilled alcohol and spirits will not spoil because the alcohol content keeps the liquid safe from microorganisms that could cause its spoilage. However, there is a chance that bourbon will go bad in terms of quality when it is not stored properly so its fate on whether it will go bad really depends on your hands. 

Store Your Bourbon the Right and Safe Way

Now that we know that bourbon can get bad, let us learn how we can store it so it will taste just like the first time you opened it. Just like any other alcohol, the enemy that lies ahead is air, among other things, and you are only going to have to play defense in this situation. 

When you have opened a bottle of bourbon, you must ensure that it is sealed very tightly to avoid oxidation. When oxygen is introduced into the alcohol, it changes the compounds and affects the flavor. It will oxidize faster the more air gets into it. Even if it’s already sealed but it’s too late because air got inside, oxidation will still take place. 

To remedy this, when your bottle is about two thirds full already because you have had several sips and you want to save it for the next drink hour, it is time to transfer it to a smaller container or bottle and seal it tightly. This is for oxidation to slow down since less air is incorporated into the bourbon. But if your bottle is still full or you haven't opened it yet, it will stay fine as is.  

The next thing that must not be neglected is light. You have to make sure that your bourbon is stored in a dark and cool place, such as a cupboard or a cabinet. The idea is for the bourbon to evade sunlight as this will prevent chemical reactions in the liquid that will degrade it and the esters and flavor compounds will not be affected. 

The last thing to look out for is temperature. Like all alcoholic beverages, temperature fluctuation is not something that can improve them. Bourbon is best served on the rocks so it does not need to be refrigerated. As long as the dark cabinet is cool and has a consistent temperature, your bourbon should be good. 

How Long Does Bourbon Last?

Maybe you think that bourbon continues aging in a bottle just like wine but unfortunately, it is not the same case. Bourbon is said to age while it is still in the barrels but once it is bottled, the aging process is stopped. So if you plan to store your bourbon for a long time in hopes that it will improve, don’t bother. 

But this doesn’t mean that it will not be good. When bourbon is bottled, its quality kind of freezes. Meaning, if a bottle of bourbon is bottled today and it’s not opened until 10 years have passed, the quality would remain the same. In short, change only occurs when the bottle is opened. 

The first pour of bourbon upon its opening is always the best one because it will be the first time it has access to air and the volatile compounds are released. But this joyful experience will not last if you intend to save some for the next couple days or week because remember that air is an enemy of bourbon. 

When you open a bottle of bourbon then pour some for yourself and seal it after, chances are, the air still has entered the bottle even if only a little was taken. With this, evaporation is inevitable and this is where change comes in. 

Basically, the shelf life of bourbon is indefinite. If the bottle is still unopened and intact, its taste will remain the same for years to come. If it is finally opened, you have to accept the fact that it will slowly start to degrade no matter how tightly sealed it is. Furthermore, the speed of the quality’s deterioration depends on how you store it so if you want to savor the bourbon without feeling rushed, you might as well follow the guidelines above.  

What is a Bourbon Decanter?

Now that we have established the ways on how to keep your bourbon at its greatest, let us assess if a bourbon decanter is viable and is suitable for storing your precious bourbon but first let us know what it is first. A bourbon decanter or any decanter for that matter, is a container that is stoppered to hold bourbon as it decants, which is the process of separating mixtures by removing a liquid layer that is free of a precipitate, or the solids deposited from a solution, as per definition. 

Decanters may be made from glass or crystal and they come in various shapes and sizes. The volume capacity of decanters is usually equivalent to the standard bottles of alcohol. They are originally for wine but alcohols like the bourbon can also be stored in them. Aside from providing a sophisticated look for your bourbon, it also induces oxidation. Will this be beneficial to the bourbon as a whole? Keep reading and find out. 

The Effects of Using a Decanter for Storing Bourbon 

It can’t be denied that keeping your bourbon in a glass decanter looks cool and that golden liquid in a crystal clear container vibe is enough to entice you to drink it and expect that it’s good.  As mentioned before, decanters are initially for wines for a particular purpose. Decanting wines removes any sediments and lets the wine breathe so the tannins in the wine soften and it is more pleasurable to drink. 

Since bourbon contains very little to no tannins at all, the process of improving the flavors is not applicable. Most whiskeys including the bourbon, have a minimum of 40% alcohol content making it resistant to change. And since wine has less alcohol content, they are susceptible to change by oxidation. 

That being said, when you transfer your bourbon into a decanter, don’t expect that its flavors will improve over time. Instead, its quality will start to degrade due to the introduction of air to it especially when you have already poured a couple of glasses. 

The speed of the alteration of flavors of your bourbon in a decanter depends on three factors, namely the type of decanter, how often you partake, and how long you intend to keep it. 

Does Bourbon Go Bad in a Decanter

Decanters have various designs and sizes. Usually, wine decanters don’t have a top so that air is introduced into the wine. Since we don’t want this scenario with bourbons, their decanters typically have more elaborate designs, featuring a large crystal top to prevent spillage of the spirits and so it will last long without it going bad. Decanters can have an airtight seal which is essential if you intend to keep the bourbon in it for a long time. Other decanters have a loose-fitting glass stopper which is not ideal for bourbon as this will encourage oxidation. 

If you’re the kind of person who likes to enjoy a glass of bourbon every other night, obviously you’ll have to open the decanter every so often too and as this will happen, it will be introduced to air over and over again. This practice can affect the quality of bourbon especially if you suddenly decide to keep half of it for the next month or so. 

The Verdict

At this point, it is safe to say that decanters are good to use to store your bourbon. But, you also have to consider the time factor. If you plan to put your bourbon in a decanter but you estimate that you can finish it in a shorter period like in weeks, it is fine. Aside from not having to experience a weird-tasting bourbon and put it to waste, you will have the opportunity to display it in a cool vessel and impress your friends and guests.  

On the other hand, if you’re not much of a bourbon fan and you prefer to partake in long intervals or just simply want to store your bourbon until a special occasion occurs, it is best if it is kept in the bottle so it will not be interrupted in terms of flavor. Additionally, if you follow the transfer it to a smaller container method once it is already about half the volume, your bourbon should be fine. So, really the fate of your bourbon rests on your hands. 


Should I put my bourbon in a decanter?

It really depends on your preference. If you like to impress your friends by showing off your expensive decanter, then it’s a great move, considering that you and your friends will finish the entire bourbon in a short period. It is also great in terms of serving because normally you eat and drink with your eyes first so seeing it in a decanter can build the impression that a decanter makes bourbon taste greater than it really is. But, if you think that keeping it in a decanter will make it better, especially for a long period of time, you are unfortunately wrong. An open bottle of bourbon is just the same as keeping it in a decanter so don’t bother. In short, it’s great for serving but bad for storing. 

What does a decanter do for bourbon?

In terms of flavor, decanters will do nothing that can improve your bourbon because it doesn’t provide an absolute airtight seal. Instead, keeping it in a decanter can deteriorate the flavor of the bourbon especially if it is kept there for a long time. But, look-wise, it can definitely elevate your bourbon. 

If my bottled bourbon is unopened, will it still go bad?

No, your bourbon will retain its quality if it remains unopened. Even if you open a bottle of bourbon decades later, it will still taste the same as the day it was bottled. There will only be an alteration of the flavor profile once it is opened and depending on how it is stored and how long it is consumed.  

Bourbon Decanter Options

Considering the factors above, should you decide to purchase a decanter, you will need some guidance. Check out this article as it gives you a great perspective about which decanter to buy. And if you plan to give a decanter to a loved one, perhaps a friend or relative who loves whiskey, browse right here to find the finest personalized decanters.


Bourbon decanters focus more on style rather than function. In a nutshell, bourbon has a pretty much indefinite life until you choose to put it in a decanter. They definitely work on a short period without altering the flavor of the bourbon as much but if you leave it in a decanter for a long time, this can be considered negligence already because it’s like putting your expensive bourbon to waste. It may still look cool but it won’t compensate for the taste and impression that you’re going to give to your guests. In order to enjoy great bourbon every time, you have to be smart about the time of storing and consuming it.

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  • jerry on

    I like my botteld bourbon from the liquer store. My health does not allow me to drink alcohol anymore, but I love the taste. Is there anyway to remove the alcohol without ruining the flavor?

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