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Can Alcohol Go Bad? (Different Types)

Quick Answer

Alcohol can go bad, but not all alcohol. Whether, or not alcohol goes bad depends on the type of alcohol. Distilled spirits will not go bad as long as they are in a bottle sealed from alcohol. In contrast, liqueurs, cordials and beer will go bad even if left unopened.

Everybody has that one bottle of alcohol hidden at the back of their kitchen cabinet, collecting dust, waiting for a “special occasion”.

As time goes by, and the special occasion still doesn’t come, you might find yourself wondering “can alcohol go bad?”

In reality the answer isn’t that simple. While some alcohol can go bad, others will not. So it all comes down to the specific type of alcohol that you have kicking around in your kitchen cabinet. Keep on reading to find out more. 

Can Alcohol Go Bad?

Does Liquor Go Bad?

First up, does liquor go bad? Generally speaking, distilled spirits, such as vodka, tequila, whiskey and rum, will not go bad. That is as long as they are left unopened in a sealed bottle. 

In order for this alcohol to go bad, it must react with oxygen. So, as long as the alcohol does not interact with oxygen it will not go bad, and will remain safe to drink.

As long as it is left unopened, liquor can go years, even decades, without going bad. 

However, once it has been exposed to oxygen, the quality of the alcohol will start to drop. Over time, the oxygen will interact with the alcohol making it lose its flavor, and even reducing the alcohol content of the liquor. 

This will only happen if the alcohol is continually exposed to oxygen. So, if you keep your liquor in a tightly sealed bottle, and re-seal the bottle tightly after each use, then it will not be exposed to alcohol.

Therefore, the liquor itself will not go bad. 

Continuous interaction between oxygen and alcohol will make the liquor go bad. But if the liquor is kept safe from oxygen, then its shelf life will be indefinite. 

Even once it interacts with oxygen, the alcohol will not go bad in the traditional sense. It simply won’t taste as nice, or as strong, as it once was. 

Do Liqueurs And Cordials Go Bad?

The main thing that ensures that liquors do not go bad is the fact that they are mainly made up of pure spirits. Spirits have an incredibly high alcohol percentage, and this prevents them from going off.

But the same cannot be said about liqueurs and cordials. 

After a certain period of time, liqueurs and cordials will go bad. They have a limited shelf life, usually due to added ingredients such as dairy and juice. 

Take Bailey’s Irish Cream, for example. While this type of alcoholic drink has a high alcohol content, it actually has one of the shortest shelf lives, usually only being good for between 8 and 12 months.

This is due to the dairy content in Baileys. Most of the time, dairy-based liqueurs will come with a “use by” date. 

As well as dairy-based liqueurs, you may also come across sugar-based liqueurs. These will not last as long as liquor, but generally will last longer than dairy-based liqueurs as sugar has a longer shelf life. 

The high-sugar content often prevents these liqueurs from going bad for a couple of years, and most of the time will be okay to drink for years to come.

But, just to be safe, we would always recommend doing a quick taste test before you add any to a cocktail. If it tastes okay, it’ll be fine to drink. If it tastes bad, then it is probably best to purchase a new bottle. 

Does Beer Go Bad?

Finally, does beer go bad? Well that depends on the type of beer that you are talking about. There are three different types of beer, all of which differ in terms of going bad. 

Vintage beers, usually ales and stouts, have a high alcohol content. This high alcohol content prevents them from going bad for many years.

As the name suggests, “vintage” beers are designed to be stored for many years, and often taste better when they have been stored for a couple of years. 

In contrast, unpasteurized beers (usually sourced from microbreweries) will go bad. They are the only type of beer that will not only go bad, but spoil completely.

Most of the time, unpasteurized beers will come with information on the packaging about when to use the beer. If this information is missing, a simple sniff test will be able to tell you if the beer has gone bad. 

Finally, bottled or canned beer (the beer that you will most commonly drink), will not spoil. At least not in the traditional sense.

If the beer is pasteurized and stored in an airtight container, then it will not go bad in the same way that unpasteurized beer will. 

However, it is possible for the ingredients in said beer to start to decompose. When this happens, the beer might start to taste strange.

The beer will not be unsafe to drink, however if you want to truly enjoy the beer, it is best to drink it within the time limit suggested by the manufacturer (usually within 6 to 12 months).

Summary

In short, yes, alcohol can go bad. However, it depends on the specific type of alcohol and the other ingredients used to make it. 

Thanks for reading!

Jess Smith