Whisky Advocate

My #1 Rule to keep my whiskies from oxidizing

July 22nd, 2011

When a bottle of whisky in my bar gets down to only 1/4 full, I invite a friend or two over and we finish the bottle. No more worries about oxidation, and it guarantees a good stable of friends.

That’s what happened this past Saturday night when I noticed this bottle of 1974 Longrow getting that low. As you can see, our mission was accomplished!

My #2 Rule is to use an inert gas spray to displace the oxygen in my open bottles. (I use a a product called Private Preserve.) It’s probably more important than my #1 Rule, but it’s not nearly as much fun. That’s why it’s #2. :)

These two practices combined work really well for me. I have not encountered any problems at all.

How about you?

48 Responses to “My #1 Rule to keep my whiskies from oxidizing”

  1. Mary says:

    I use Rule #1 & never use John’s Rule #2….I figure it’s interesting to see how the whisky changes over time – IF the bottle isn’t emptied soon enough. My own Rule #2 is to finish the whisky w/in 6 months to 1 year. Rarely a problem at my house.

  2. I use rule no 1 as well. Almost exclusively

    My rule no 2 is pour into a sample bottle, But I use that mainly if I think I can use the bottle remains for a future meet up somewhere

    Steffen

  3. lawschooldrunk says:

    There’s always pouring the bottle when it reaches 50% into smaller bottles, but I don’t do that. I actually like seeing how the oxidation changes the whisky.

    For example, I think some lighter whiskys benefit from oxidation by getting a bit of an edge.

  4. I find that the longer a bottle stays open the better it gets. What negative effects am I supposed to notice ?

    • I agree with you Olivier, but the lasst dregs can sometimes loose flavour (25% or below and left for some time=months). Lower ABV tends to loose flavour easier imo

      Steffen

    • I have a half full bottle of the older, wide mouthed Highland Park 18, which has oxidized nicely. Peter Silver, who vacuums all his bottles, finds oxidation presents in the form of a cardboard note.

  5. Gal says:

    Good idea John !
    I sometimes pourl my almost empty bottles into
    100ml bottles. Saves space on the shelf
    And rids me of oxidation.

  6. Rule #1 whenever possible..! I also use vacuum wine pumps when it comes almost to the bottom of the bottle…

    • Patrick says:

      Vacuum Pump is not a very good idear. You remove also the volatile aromatic components present in the headpsace. If you use it too often, the whisky will loose some of qualities and become flat.

  7. Mark says:

    Really like this off the wall, autobiographically-driven post. Plus, it’s unlikely to stir much controversy, at least compared to some other posts.

    I used to let them all get as old as their destiny fated them, believing in the notion that oxidation makes them more intersting. Which is true in my experience *some* of the time. After an incident in which O2 did horrible things to a nice Signatory bottling of Strathmill, I have given up on that. Now I follow John’s Rule #1, as I don’t want a “fool me twice” situation with another good bottle.

    The exception, of course, is my dear 2004 bottling of Talisker 25, given to me by my best scotch drinking brother in arms, my real brother, for a very special occasion. It hasn’t sustained much O2 damage since it was opened 06/2007. Partly, I’m sure, because it’s been opened but 4 times in the interim, secured tightly with layers of plastic wrap over the cork during its hibernations. Next time, I may try John’s Rule #2…. Or #1.

  8. Thomas W says:

    I’ve tried the Private Preserve spray, which was not too easy to come by, since I live in Europe. But even though it might be a good rule No. 2 for some very respected reviewers (;-)), at least to my tastebuds it would have made more sense to just let oxidation happen. I was never sure if the spray impacted the taste of the whisky negatively, or whether I just was overly taste-aware.

    Right now, I still have some PP spray left. But for over two years I have just accepted oxidation, and not found it much of a problem (unless of course the last 7th of a bottle is reached).

  9. Dr. J says:

    My rule is this: When you open a new bottle, savor it daily (in moderation), until it is gone.

  10. John Hansell says:

    Here’s the thing, guys. Like Mark points out above, some whiskies handle time in a bottle fine, while others do not. I don’t think you need to worry too much about those cask-strength ultra-peated whiskies in your cabinet, but your lighter, more delicate whiskies are a different story.

    Plus, I probably have a lot more open bottles than you (with some that stay open for years), so maybe this is more of an issue for me than most of you.

    But if you have one special bottle of whisky go bad (like I once did), you will never want to take that risk of letting it happen again.

  11. Private reserve is awesome – I use it both at home, and at work (for preserving some of the more important bottles that are opened in the name of ‘research’).

    It is a shame that there’s not anything else out there that’s a bit more sensible with regard to price though – it’s only pure nitrogen after all, and £8 a tin seems a bit much to me…

  12. Gregg H says:

    Another important factor is a dark, cool place for storage. I see many collections displayed on shelves or in glass cases. I keep my whisky is a dark, closed cabinet. It seems to help keep the whisky from changing.

  13. Red_Arremer says:

    I like PP too. I’ve heard that some people– Especially wine folks– think PP affects nose/taste. I’ve never noticed this, though. I’m interested to hear others thoughts on this.

    • two-bit cowboy says:

      Red: Thanks to a note John posted several years ago I use Private Preserve in every bottle on the backbar. I don’t detect any ill nose/mouth effects.

      While I find Mary and lsd’s experimentation with oxidation interesting from a personal vantage, I don’t want to play around with whisky (and other spirits) on offer to the public.

      In spite of the PP, though, I did have one heavily peated expression lose its smoky punch after about 15 months, which is a l-o-n-g time for a bottle to linger on our backbar. Hasn’t happened with subsequent bottles of that particular expression — bad cork, maybe?

      So, John, what’s the story with that “one special bottle of whisky go[ne] bad”?

  14. Jerome says:

    As a rule, I never have more than 3 bottles open so I never need to worry about oxidation. My only two experiences with opened bottles for a year or more were with a Highland Park 12yo and Balvenie 21yo Portwood. The Balvenie had about an 1/8 of whisky left in it until the following Christmas and tasted as good as it did the year before. The HP had a third left in it for three years and actually tasted better than when it was newly opened.

  15. Brendan says:

    I actually did stir something up on The Scotch Blog a few years ago – not sure if that still exists – by suggesting that oxidation and evaporation were making the bottom of my bottles have less flavor and less alcohol than the top. I think that someone from Balvenie came on to back me up, and he also suggested the use of inert gas as you can find at wine stores, for the same reason, as a protective layer atop the remainder in the bottle. Darkness should reduce oxidation, too, which is why I have never used the nice crystal decanter that I received as a gift a few years ago.

  16. I usually pour the rest into smaller bottles. I like to have different sizes – 50ml, 100ml, 200ml, 375ml. I’m most concerned about 40% & 43% expressions. Just last night I transferred the last of a 200ml sample into a 50ml. People are always inquiring about the 50mls on the shelves – some are the last of a favorite bottle & others are samples. I’ve had some bottles open for over 5 yrs & still taste fresh, but they are over half full.

  17. Danny Maguire says:

    My rule is quite simple, only open one bottle at a time, and don’t open another one until you HAVE finished the first, which for me usually takes a month to 6 weeks.

    • John Hansell says:

      Danny, I really think you are limiting yourself by doing this. One of the best things about whisky is its variety of flavors and diversity. There are different whiskies for different moods, ocassions, and times of day.

      Do you buy and cow and only eat beef until the cow is gone? And then do you buy a halibut and only eat halibut until the fish is gone. And the move on to a turkey and just eat that?

      • Scott says:

        I think Danny is correct [below] that the cow/halibut analogy is inapt at best. But still, let’s take Danny’s original numbers to heart. Say it takes 5 weeks to finish a typical bottle of whisky. If I have two bottles open at a time, no bottle is likely to remain open for longer than 10-12 weeks. You’re just not likely to experience any negative effects on the spirit in that timeframe, assuming a minimal level of care (no direct sunlight, reasonable temperature control, the bottle sealed when not being poured).

        Flavor degradation seems to be very rare, and when it is reported outside the context of negligent storage, it seems to occur in a timeframe more like years than months. So if I can reasonably expect to finish one bottle every 5 weeks, I could have 10 bottles open at a time and never have to worry about the spirit going bad, because no bottle will remain open for more than a year.

        Anyway, that’s roughly the math I rely on; I typically have four or five sipping whiskies open at a time, for different moods, occasions, guests, and food pairings. I’ve only been appreciating whisky for a few years, but even so I have yet to have the same bottles open two Christmases in a row. Danny’s conservative reasoning is basically sound; it’s just that he follows it to the wrong conclusion. Not one open bottle only, but a few open bottles at a time.

  18. bj reed says:

    rule number 1 more important for lowlands

  19. Danny Maguire says:

    There are only 4 Lowland’s and as far as I’m aware one of them’s not available yet.

    • Lowlands Glenkinchie, Auchentoshan and Bladnoch
      Lowlands unavailable still : Ailsa Bay and Daftmill
      Closed Lowlands and available, some harder than others : Littlemill, Rosebank, Inverleven, St. Magdelene, Ladyburn….and the hardest to find : Kinclaith, Killyloch, Glen Flagler

  20. Danny Maguire says:

    John, a whole cow or halibut will last a lot longer than a bottle of whisky. I was probably being a bit conservative with the time I take to drink them, 2-3 is probably more accurate which means that I get through a lot of whisky in a year and my favourite one is always the one I’m drinking.This means I’m drinking a wide variety and I’ve got to the srtage that I can tell you what companies product I’ve drunk from the corks lined up on the kitchen window sill. I throw them out every so often to make room for new ones.

    • I think its a lot more fun coming to my hose for tastings than your house :-)…well maybe, they have to cope with me at my house :-)

      Steffen

      • Danny Maguire says:

        At my place you’d have to put up with me, but if I had a few guests round there are some very interesting bottles of whisky that could be tried, though my wife said that I’d die if I open some of them but I think it’s worth taking a chance since I bought them.

  21. Jason Pyle says:

    My method may be a tad tedious admittedly but it works for me. I purchase 4 and 2oz boston round sample bottles. I won’t name the shop as I don’t know if that’s permitted or not, but do a google search for “boston round bottles” and that will get you started.

    Once I get a whiskey down 1/3rd left, I siphon off the whiskey into a combination of the 2 and 4 oz. bottles. I’ve found these sizes are great because I usually fill a couple of them and have a couple of sample bottles that I can share with friends or road trip with me.

    I do this with all bottles regardless of proof to try to keep them as intact as possible. It might be overkill for some, but I’m convinced it has saved a number of whiskeys. Also I haven’t found too many whiskeys that get so much better with more oxygen contact that I’ve regretted doing this. Also it’s a bit of an insurance policy.

    The most critical piece of this is labeling. I purchased some labels that fit these bottles well. They were not expensive, and it allows me to write the name of the whiskey, the abv/proof, and the date I re-bottled it.

    In spite of that effort, John’s #1 rule is indeed the best way to handle this “problem”.

  22. jinenjo says:

    This is a topic I’ve put much effort and thought into, so I’ll share my method.

    There is something unique in the experience of drinking a great, rare, whiskey that is irreplaceable. I find pouring from the original bottle (say, like a vintage bourbon from the 1970s) is not an insignificant part of the ritual. However, I want some of my whiskey to last years for various special events. My method essentially is to pour into smaller bottles, but so-called antique bottles. Given that I tend to collect and drink mostly American bourbon and rye, I have the advantage that many vintage labels can be found in smaller sizes (pints, half pints, even minis). So usually I’ve been able to retain the experience of pouring juice from a bottle of a similar enough vintage from the same distillery. It’s a bit of a stretch perhaps, but I can’t say that holding a blank, sterile bottle and pouring a pony of Old Grand Dad from 1956 would be as pleasurable for me.

    As for rule #1, sadly I don’t have whiskey drinking friends over to my place often enough to do this with my 50+ open bottles!

  23. The Bitter Fig says:

    The number of open bottles is key, though. Myself, I’ve got about a half-dozen bottles open at a time, so I just don’t worry about it. If I had 50+, I might be concerned, or if I had a few particularly rare or pricy whiskies I wanted to work through very slowly, but that’s not me right now. A smallish collection of standard expressions with a fair variety – right now that’s sherried, peated, blended scotches, bourbon, Canadian, and a nice Rhum Agricole – that’ll hit most of my moods, but still also fit on one shelf.

  24. Vince says:

    I usually have 8-10 bottles open at once so a bottle doesnt usually last more than 9 months. I have never had the problem with oxidation that some have mentioned here, but to John’s point, it will be a very dark day indeed if I ever do have a special whiskey ruined.

    But for now, this has worked for me. I also think Rule #1 is the best remedy

  25. Danny Maguire says:

    Rule 1 is fine if you have whisky drinking friends within reasonable travel distance. I don’t. Rule 2? An interesting idea but I’ve never come accross the gas spray so let me propose rule 3. Don’t leave the bottle open so long that it would oxidise. Most people empty their’s within a year a year and have no problem with oxidation, I even guess that you could go twice as long with any problem. The best whisky I have ever had was a 12 year old Springbank in the pottery flagon. I opened it, drank some, I recall that I gave my mother some one time she visited me, then put it on the shelf and left, probably more true to say forgot, it. I finally opened it again about 20, or even 25, years later. The stopper had adhered to the side of the flagon the only way I could access it was to break off the pottery part and push the cork into the flagon, I also had to decant it through a barrier filter to remove the little pieces of cork. That whisky was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed finishing it over the following week or two, it’s a pitty they don’t make Springbank like that anymore. The important thing is that there was no oxidation in the whisky, the closure had sealed itself to the side of the flagon again and the air in their was the same as that in my room when I had opened it, even though I’d moved quite a bit round the country in the interveaning years. I think that the moral of this little tale is that it’s the quality and strength of the spirit coupled with that of the closure that determines if we get oxidation.

  26. VT Mike says:

    I’m sure John has far more open bottles than me, but I have between 60 and 70, and some of them have been open for as long as 5 years. I gas them on rare occasion, maybe once a year. I’ve noticed that some have lost flavor over time (Basil Hayden comes to mind), while others have improved. There were a few that I thought were a bit hot (too much burn relative to the amount of flavor), such as Wild Turkey Rye and 12yr Suntory Yamazaki, that seem to have come around after being open for a few years. Of course, my taste and palate could have changed over that time too.

  27. JoshK says:

    I’ve recently started trying harder to finish off bottles before opening new ones for this reason. I used to leave a lot of whiskies open as I continuously tried new things. I’d have bottles open for upwards of 5 years. Now I am trying to finish off long open bottles that typically were about 1/2 full. Plus anything new I open I make sure I will finish in < 12-18 month max.

  28. Danny Maguire says:

    12 to 18 months should be fine, I don’t think I’d want to leave anthing longer than that.

  29. jfpilon says:

    I like #1 myself better, if not, i usually use smaller bottle and decanter the big one into the small one. I also use a wine pump on some whisky that in my opinion oxidize quicker.

  30. Pat Baldwin says:

    I have 70+ bottles open at a time as I tend to buy a lot and have small tastings. I am taking no chances on affecting the flavor of some of these whiskies as I have a significant sum invested (I don’t get samples sent to me, I have to buy them myself, John I am jealous). I use Private Preserve every time I open a bottle to prevent oxidation. I found a site on the web where I could buy a case at a good price. I think it was Amazon but am not sure. I have not found any degradation in nose/taste by using PP. I believe that it is a good practice. I tend to keep bottles for years ;and don’t want to risk the quality. My two cents.

  31. Amit Sawhney says:

    I use rule #1 almost always and even though I have over a dozen bottles open at a time, they don’t last long enough to oxidize. What can I say; I have a lot of friends!

    In my experience cask strength whiskies do not oxidize easily and I usually drink cask strength whiskies at home.

  32. Jesse Smith says:

    I do rule 1 as often as I can. I have roughly 70 bottles open, so if I notice one getting down towards the bottom I drink it up!

  33. Requiem says:

    Whiskies don’t oxidize: wines do. Alcohol evaporates, but this is not an issue for cork-stoppered bottles. Why does the whisky world slavishly follow the wine world? Next we’re going to be having discussions of cork spoilage and brettanomyces (sp?).

    • Terry Weisenberger says:

      I am curious about the emphatic basis of your statement. Chemical analysis? Laboratory test comparing samples? Alcohol (even ethyl alcohol) is hardly the only organic component in whisk(e)y. There are hundreds of potential esters and aldehydes in whisk(e)y that can change character or structure in combination with oxygen. Actually, the alcohol can serve as a preservative as well as a flavor and texture component–perhaps why enthusiasts find cask strength bottlings less susceptible to oxidation.

      • Requiem says:

        Perhaps I was a little too strenuous–it’s my training to argue forcefully. Anyway, my view is not scientific (clearly, I suppose), but based simply on the fact of the higher alcohol content than in wines and ports (both of which oxidize rapidly although port much more slowly–because of the slightly higher alcohol content? I don’t know). Just an idea. I’ve never encountered ox. in whisky or any alcohol for that matter. What about rums and vodkas, both of which I’ve had in my cabinet for years. There is no appreciative ox. that I can determine, and I have a fairly sensitive palate (but who doesn’t claim this?).

  34. Henric Molin says:

    I generally have more bottles open than I could or should empty, with or without good friends. What I do is fillingup the bottles with ordinary glass marbles. That way I can keep the original bottles, and reduce oxidizing surface. Just make sure the marbles are clean

  35. Doug Caven says:

    Rule #1 should be the only rule. Good whisky is to savor. If you want to save it, don’t open it. The joy of whisky has always been the variety of flavors. Nothing will ever beat the first dram from an unopened bottle, a sample direct from the cask, and especially not the aid of close friends who share a love of good spirit.

  36. Terry Weisenberger says:

    I have several dozen bottles open at any given time because I am driven by curiosity to experience what is behind the label. I have definitely had the experience of degradation from “forgotten” bottles that have been left too long. Something I have been doing for a few years now is to source six-ounce oval flint bottles–cough syrup bottles for want of a better descriptor. I pour off every bottle I buy into one of these for future use. Over time I have developed a library of several hundred of these sample bottles. It is great to be able to test whether Ardbeg 10 year old, say, has changed over the years. Is that bottle of branded single malt really a Glendronach? Memory of a whisky’s profile is very useful, but being able to do a side by side comparison is very handy and less subjective.

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