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Beverages

How Long Does Leftover Booze Last?

Have some extra bottles of liquor and wine lying around after your last party? Here’s how long you have to drink them.
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Published Jan. 25, 2024.

Anyone who has hosted a party knows how common it is to be left with a random assortment of beer, half-empty bottles of liquor, and unopened wine once your guests have left. 

Sure, it’s nice to have a full liquor cabinet, but if what’s left behind isn’t what you typically drink, it may be a while until you pull those bottles out again. (Your next party, perhaps?)

Is this OK?

Fermentation and distillation increase the longevity of drinks, but they change them too. Even if they don’t technically expire, you probably don’t want to drink bitter beer or vinegary wine. 

Rather than guess and run the risk of serving up a bad cocktail, we talked to experts to find out just how long leftover booze lasts. Plus, we’ll give you a few ways to use some of that stuff up.

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How Long Do Open Bottles of Wine Last?

“Once a bottle of wine is open, the countdown is on,” says Lauren Friel, wine director and owner of Rebel Rebel. Oxygen, heat, and light are the biggest contributors to wine spoilage, so you don’t have long. “It’s a relationship on a timeline,” she adds.

But how long is too long? According to Maryse Chevriere of Fresh Cut Garden House, depending on the type of wine, it may be OK to drink for up to a week. But this timeframe isn’t a hard and fast rule.

Sparkling wines will have a shorter shelf life once opened, more like 13 days when stored in the fridge with a sparkling stopper.

Dry, light whites and rosés can sometimes go 57 days after opening. Oak-aged wines, especially oak-aged whites, might start to decline faster after openingoak is porous, so the wine was exposed to gentle aging as part of the winemaking process.

The similar is true for reds—full-bodied red wines with higher tannins (think Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo) tend to last longer and may last up to 56 days, whereas a lighter-bodied red such as a Pinot Noir will start to lose its luster faster. 

How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad

Wondering if your wine is past its prime? Use your senses to find out.

  • Taste: Friel and Chevriere agree that having a sip is the best way to find out if your wine is “destined for the drain,” as Friel phrased it. Look out for any flavors present that weren’t there when you opened the bottle.
  • Sound: Has your sparkling wine lost its bubbles? Is your still wine now fizzy? These are simple indicators of wine’s freshness (or lack thereof).
  • Smell: If it smells like vinegar, it’s done. “Oxidation can also lead to intense nutty and smoky-sweet aromas (think burnt caramel)," says Chevriere.
  • Sight: Changes in color, browning, and cloudiness (though this won’t apply to unfiltered wine), as well as obvious mold are clear indicators that it’s time to throw it out.

How Long Does Unopened Beer Last?

According to Joshua M. Bernstein, journalist and author of six books about beer, “it may be misguided to think beers can be aged like wine or whiskey.” He recommends checking the expiration date on the packaging—a good brewery will do their due diligence to preserve their products’ flavor, so you can trust what they print—and consuming beer within a month or two of purchase.

If you’re worried about drinking beer that was once refrigerated and has warmed to room temperature, don’t be. We found that temperature is not what skunks beer. Rather, light is your biggest concern when it comes to preserving beer freshness. Purchase beer in dark amber bottles and cans, and be sure to avoid the beer in the store that’s closest to those harsh fluorescent lights.

So, where should you store your leftover beer? Bernstein recommends storing IPAs, Pilsners, and fruited Sour Ales in the refrigerator as the colder temperatures better preserve beers with hoppy fragrances, a lower alcohol content, or the addition of fruit. A stronger beer, like a stout or barley wine, can be stored in your pantry. 

The best thing for your extra beer (other than drinking it!) is to simply use it up. It makes a great batter for frying, and darker, fuller bodied beers intensify the flavors of hearty, cheesy soups. Steam shrimp, or just plop a spice-rubbed chicken on a can for BBQ Beer-Can Chicken on a Charcoal Grill.

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How Long Do Open Bottles of Spirits Last?

Of all the types of alcohol a guest can leave behind, spirits last the longest. In fact, the distillation process increases the shelf life indefinitely. However, just because a bottle can sit in your cabinet for years doesn’t mean it should. According to Dave Willis, head distiller at Bully Boy, “the more volatile components of, say, whiskey, will evaporate, leading to a dull, flat, flabby spirit.” 

Ethyl alcohol—what we think of as vodka, rum, or whiskeyhas many components that give it nuance and complexity when smelled or tasted. While the spirit may not lose potency (the proof stays the same), ethyls evaporate when exposed to air. This changes the experience over time. “As the liquid interacts with oxygen, it will, over time, transform, which is what’s happening when the liquid is sitting in a barrel or even stainless,” says Willis.

After a year or so, any opened bottle of liquor will likely have lost much of its flavor.  

Flavored spirits are even more vulnerable to these changes, especially those with sugar. “If flavoring is added to your spirits, which is often the case with liqueurs, those flavors or extracts will lose their zip over time,” Willis says. “Theyll also oxidize, which has the effect of altering their flavor.”

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