Older Bottles: Are They Safe To Drink ?!?

So, you have found yourself with an older bottle of spirits - Congratulations :-)

Now the more you look at it, the more likely you are to consider opening it up and seeing what it tastes like after all these years... Now would be a good time to seek some Education & Caution !!!

Before sampling an old bottle, understand that any “distilled spirit” no longer continues to the aging process after it is pulled from the barrel and put into a bottle... It can however, over time, so from having a ’slightly off’ flavor profile, to being downright unhealthy in some cases.

The general “rule of thumb” for most collectors & connoisseurs of vintage spirits, is to avoid anything with a content level which evaporated below the “shoulder”... and this is for good reason.

Older bottles whose contents have evaporated below the shoulder line most often experience what is known as “Oxidation”...where the long-term combination of stale air in contact with the spirits have caused a change in the molecular structure of the water content of the spirit, giving it a very unpleasant “rust-like” taste. (From my own personal experience, I can only tell you that it is quite distasteful at that point)

....This is the primary reason why collectors have absolutely no interest in such bottles aside from the potential collectability of the glass & labeling.

Additionally, as the content level continues to fall, the evaporating content is largely affecting the alcohol portion of the spirit, long before the water portion of the content.

As the percentage of alcohol (or “proof”) decreases, the remaining contents become much more susceptible to microbial contamination...and this is where attempting to consume such spirits becomes quite dangerous.

“Whisky bloom” Mold growing on the surface of a pre-Prohibition Dewar’s scotch whiskey, image by aphonik

As aphonik wrote regarding whisky:

Often the whiskey will turn a milky white color or have a hazy, cloudy appearance. This is a sign that whiskey has gone off and should not be consumed. If the glass was clear you’d probably be able to see this more easily. I would look at it in good light and see if you can identify any haze or sediment. I’m guessing you’ll see that effect with such a low fill level.

***It’s quite literally like drinking un-purified water from a stagnant stream, and it is extremely risky to do so: My advice, if you have such a bottle, is to dispose of the remaining contents down the sink drain in order to prevent anyone from accidentally consuming it.


Walter C Hurst


So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.


  • Vale: What would happen if you drank oxidised whiskey? I tried to look it up online but couldn’t find anything!
  • wchurst:

    Vale, Oxidized whisky isn’t known to be dangerous to your health in any way, however it is quite unpalatable ...having a rather flavor much like water from a very rusty pipe. Cheers, Walter C Hurst

  • Vale: Thanks Walter!

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