How Long Does Tequila Last? | Making The Most Out Of Your Liquor
Buying tequila is considered an investment, so it’s important to know about its shelf life. This will help you enjoy all its flavors to the fullest and prevent waste.
Like most distilled spirits, an unopened bottle of tequila will have an indefinite shelf life. But, an opened bottle will only have six months to a year before the flavors get really dull.
There are also factors that affect its longevity, and knowing these will help you avoid ruining your tequila’s quality. If you want to comprehend more about how long tequila lasts and other know-how, read on!
Wines are well-known for becoming finer as they age, even if they're already bottled. Some tequila types are aged in casks, too, but unlike wines, once they’re transferred to individual bottles, the aging is stopped, making the tequila the final product.
Assuming you’ve bought a bottle of tequila, whether you opened it immediately or one or two years after purchase, the taste will be the same.
Liquor bottles don’t explicitly show a best-before or expiration date on their labels because their shelf life depends on whether they are unopened or opened.
A properly sealed tequila makes it difficult for air to oxidize it, and the alcohol prevents bacteria and other organisms from spoiling it. This is why tequila, along with other spirits with at least 40% alcohol content, can last five years or more if they are unopened and stored in optimal conditions.
However, alcohol can evaporate even if it’s in an unopened bottle when it has prolonged exposure to heat or lights, causing the flavors and aromas to change.
There are also instances when tequila levels are reduced in a bottle due to evaporation. This depends on how well the bottle is sealed, but it may take decades to see the difference in volume.
On the other hand, the moment a bottle of tequila is opened or its seal is unintentionally broken, it becomes like a ticking bomb. In other words, environmental factors such as temperature and light will start to affect the tequila, causing it to degrade slowly.
It is recommended to consume a bottle of tequila within six months to a year after its opening. This period is when you’ll still enjoy its peak quality. If it’s already been more than one year, flavor changes will become more noticeable.
Consumables like food, and drinks, including distilled spirit, don’t last forever. So, at one point, your tequila can go bad, particularly if it is not stored properly. The case of tequila going bad is more likely to happen when it is opened rather than unopened.
In this context, “going bad” doesn’t necessarily mean spoiling in the same manner as food, such that mold will grow quickly or the liquid will coagulate. Instead, it denotes a change or decline in the quality of tastes, aromas, and texture that will make the tequila less enjoyable to drink.
This phenomenon happens when the ethanol in tequila comes into contact with oxygen, also known as oxidation. This alters some flavor compounds in the tequila, eventually making it taste flat or unpleasant.
If you want to experience the taste difference, pour an ounce of tequila into a glass and leave the tequila sitting on your counter for a day or two. Then, pour another ounce of tequila into a separate glass, then compare the tastes of the two-day-old tequila and freshly poured tequila.
With food, you can immediately recognize that it has gone bad because there may be mold, discoloration, and a bad smell. Tequila can also reach this point, but it may take longer. Sometimes, you may not even notice the changes unless you investigate further.
Try smelling the tequila and assess if there as off-odors. If so, the tequila has most likely become unpleasant to drink. Another way to tell the tequila’s state is by examining the color.
Tequila can range from transparent to gold. If you’ve observed that your tequila has developed a darker shade, like from transparent to yellow or from gold to brown, this indicates that it has become oxidized and consequently turned the flavors dull.
On the other hand, if you look closely at the tequila and see dark particles floating, don’t worry; these are probably residues from the agave plant. They are harmless and don’t affect the taste.
Sometimes, it can be cork pieces from some tequila bottles, which are also pretty harmless but may affect the flavors if left in the liquor. If you’re uncomfortable with these floaters, you can remove them before drinking.
If you’re unsure whether tequila is okay to drink, you can always take a sip and assess if some flavors are still there. If it’s still palatable, you can serve it neat or as a tequila shot.
If the taste is fine, you can use that tequila in a cocktail, as the mixers will help elevate the taste and aromas. But, if the taste is nothing like tequila, such that it has become sour or like vinegar, it’s wise to discard it immediately.
The shelf life of tequila depends on several factors, mainly the storage place. Here is how they can affect tequila and what to do to counter the effects:
When you store tequila in a hot or humid environment, the heat tends to break down the liquor’s flavor compounds. It can also cause the alcohol to evaporate quickly, especially if the bottle is open.
To remedy this, always ensure to store tequila properly in a cool, dry area, such as a pantry, liquor cabinet, or even a bar cart. The ideal temperature for long-term storage would be 50°F-60°F. But if you often drink, you can refrigerate tequila or put in at room temperature.
Be careful not to put your tequila near hot appliances or windows because these areas have temperature fluctuations and can therefore affect it. It can also cause the cork to break down, compromise the seal and/or taint the tequila.
Too much sunlight exposure can increase the temperature of the area it covers. This means that it can also cause rapid evaporation of tequila. Additionally, light can also change the tequila’s color and, in turn, alter some of the flavors.
Aside from storing tequila in a cold and dry place, it’s also crucial for it to be dark. Enclosed spaces like a wooden cabinet or pantry are ideal because light cannot pass through them.
But, if your cabinet is made of glass or any transparent material, you may need to cover it to prevent the light from passing through and reaching the bottle.
On the other hand, if you have open storage for tequila, such as a counter table, bar cart, or shelf, make sure that it will not be hit with direct sunlight. Also, it’s best if you don’t put any light bulbs or LED lights on the shelves because these can create heat.
Oxygen in the air is responsible for triggering the oxidation process in alcohol. From the time a bottle is opened, air enters and stays inside when the bottle is closed. This is when the alcohol starts to deteriorate.
Meanwhile, alcohol inherently evaporates quickly because it is a volatile compound. And when air moves over the liquor, it carries away vapor, making the air dry and increasing the alcohol’s evaporation rate.
Air is often recognized as the enemy of most alcohols; that’s why it is always recommended to seal the bottle tightly after opening it. If a bottle is sealed with a cork, there’s a chance that air can sneak into the bottle because of the cork’s porous nature.
With this, you can try wrapping the top part of the bottle with plastic wrap and tape to prevent air from entering and compromising its quality. You can also employ this method if the seal is a screw cap or if you’re collecting bottles and don’t plan on opening them soon.
As tequila is slowly poured out from the bottle, air replaces it. And the more air is inside the bottle, the faster the oxidation rate will be.
If you’re not a frequent tequila drinker, you will not be able to finish a whole bottle in one sitting or even a few days and will be left with leftovers.
So, to prevent your tequila from oxidizing faster, you can transfer the leftover tequila into a smaller bottle to minimize the headspace and, consequently, the air in the bottle.
Also, ensure that the bottles you're using are clean or sterilized so no particles or residual odor can be imparted onto the tequila.
But if you frequently use tequila, transferring it won’t be necessary. Just seal it tightly and store it upright because letting the tequila come into contact with the cork or the cap can also change the flavor.
If you’re working in a bar, it would be helpful to have inventory management on your liquors so you’ll always have optimal stocks while minimizing waste. It will also ensure that you’re always serving the best quality tequila rather than old ones.
Tequila types vary on how long they’re aged, but this doesn’t affect how long they last. May it be Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, or any type, tequila shelf life will depend on how they are stored and how often they are consumed.
Most of the time, you will not get sick in the same way when you eat spoiled food. You’ll have an unpleasant drinking experience, though, given that the tequila’s taste will have changed.
However, there is a chance that you’ll be nauseated, especially when the tequila has been polluted with harmful bacteria. So, if you sense that your tequila has become unpleasant, you better discard it.
Whether for storage or serving, it is not advisable to freeze your tequila because doing so will change the volatile flavor compounds and make the aromas and taste muted.
If you prefer to have your spirits cold, you can pop them in the chiller instead. But we recommend serving tequila at room temperature to take advantage of the maximum flavors and aromas.
It depends on the person because some enjoy Reposado or Añejo, which are aged for months or years, while others may prefer Blanco tequila, which is unaged. But it’s worth noting that older tequila doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more valuable.
Some wines or whiskey take a long time to age in wooden barrels, so they will be incorporated with charred oak and other deep flavors found in barrels.
On the other hand, tequila shouldn’t spend too long in barrels because those wooden characteristics will start to take over the agave flavor.
Spirits, especially high-quality ones, cost money, so as much as possible, they should be finished. But if you don’t drink tequila often, don't worry because you can still put it to good use.
If your tequila still has some discernable flavors, you can use it for your favorite tequila cocktails, like Margarita, Paloma, and Tequila Sunrise. And like wine and other spirits, you can also use it for cooking, whether entrées, side dishes or dessert.
Now that you know tequila is only good to consume within a year or less once it is opened, you’d do well to store it properly or be creative with its usage to make the best out of it.
If you're a collector and don't intend to open any of your bottles, proper storage practices will also be beneficial to preserve your tequila’s quality.
What are your experiences when you store hard liquor? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
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