As my daughters are graduating this year from college and high school, it makes me think of age and how old I am and how old I will eventually be. With modern medicine and great drugs (like cabernet sauvignon and good bourbon) I may live until I’m 125 years old. I theoretically could be a great, great, great, great grandpa!
As always, my thoughts go to liquor, beer and wine. How old can wine get? Do the expiration dates on beer mean anything? I found an old bottle of whiskey in my grandma’s cupboard — is it still good? I get these questions and more all the time.
The quick answer is yes — it is still drinkable. It won’t send you to the hospital or give you hallucinations. But it will be different than what the creators wanted you to taste.
All wine and beer is evolving constantly. But hard liquors like whiskey, vodka or rum will not change once they are in the bottle. Most are over 40 percent alcohol and will never change. I believe it’s a waste and a shame to keep something so good as a classic Scotch around—but if you find one in the back of the cupboard—drink it up and reminisce. It will taste the same as it did when you first bought the bottle.
The only exceptions to this rule are cream liqueurs like a Baileys Irish Cream. Even though the cream is pasteurized and it is good Irish whiskey, the cream will eventually harden and make the bottle undrinkable.
Beer is the shortest-lived of all alcoholic beverages. Most beers are meant to be consumed within 115 to 125 days of bottling. The fresh hop flavors in beer will fade over time. Again the beers won’t be bad, won’t be unhealthy, won’t be chunky, but they will be different. The “drink by” dates on beers are a guideline. The beers won’t change overnight. I have had beers in my refrigerator for over a year, and I drank one and it was different, but not bad.
Anheuser Busch was the first national brewery to make a big deal about fresh beer with their huge ad campaign a few years ago. It definitely puts pressure on retailers and wholesalers to rotate beers, change things up and make sure you rotate your stock. When you see a great beer marked down or put in mystery bags, you know the brewery is helping the industry blow out close-to-out-of-date product.
Wines will age in different manners. Most white wines are meant to be drunk in the first couple years they’re available. Chardonnay, sauvignon blancs and other whites will slowly lose their fresh ripe flavors and get a little flatter. Most whites will start to taste bad after five years. Try to drink within at least three to four years.
If you have an old bottle, look at the color first. If the wine has a brownish tint, or too dark a gold color, that is a bad sign. Look for clarity and bright colors in your glass.
In older white wines, the aromas and taste will change, too. You will not get the fruit-forward nuances, but rather the astringent tastes and sourness that marks a bad wine. Again, not dangerous to your health — just to your taste buds!
Red wines are definitely the wines to age. Good cabernets, merlots and pinot noirs can age for up to 10 to 15 years, depending on the winemaker’s preferences and techniques. Most of us don’t have the patience to wait 10 years to drink a wine — but the wait is sometimes worth it! A well-aged bottle of Napa cabernet or French Bordeaux is a sublime experience. The wines will exhibit amazing fruit flavors and smooth finishes as the rich tannins slowly change the wine over time.
I’m not talking about your $10 California reds, like Robert Mondavi or Apothic Red. These everyday quaffers are nice to drink and are meant to be drunk immediately. But someday treat yourself to an older red wine and you will see the differences. The old saw of “everything gets better with age” is most true with great red wines like Chateau Montelena, Caymus, or Keenan Cabernet.
If my dream of living to 125 is close to accurate, I should be buying some good bottles now and drinking them over the next 10 to 20 years. Think about the long term and treat yourself to something sublime that ages as well as you do. Cheers, and enjoy in moderation!