You know your single malt from your single cask; you know the regions of Scotland like the back of your hand and you’re a master at nosing and tasting your particular whisky.
But what do you do with the bottle when you’re done drinking from it?
Storing Scotch isn’t as simple as shoving it in a wine rack or leaving it on the windowsill. There are certain rules you need to follow if you want to get the most out of your beverage in the long term.
So, let’s dive in. In this final edition of Scotch 101, we’re talking about the correct method of Scotch storage; where your bottles should live, how to fight off the scourge of oxidization and what do you once your precious tipple has been opened.
Where should you keep your scotch?
Traditionally, Scotch whisky is stored in cellars for two reasons:
1) Cellars tend to maintain a room temperature of 15-18°c – the optimal temperature for your Scotch.
2) Cellars are dark, with only a minimum amount of sunlight and heat.
If you have a cellar, it’s the obvious place to store your whiskies. But, not to worry if you don’t. Plenty of Scotch enthusiasts have gotten on just fine without one. The trick is making sure you keep your whisky in conditions as close to that cellar as possible. That means, protecting it from the sun’s rays and fluctuations in temperature.
So what’s the issue with sunlight anyway? Well, it breaks down the alcohol for one, as well as causing chemical reactions to the alcohol’s volatile bonds that will alter the flavor.
Leaving your Scotch on a shelf near to a window is therefore a no-no. If you can, store it in a cabinet, or at least make sure it is covered it with a dense, opaque material such as wood. So long as the temperature of the room, your Scotch is stored in, is between 15 -20°c (59-68°f) – regular room temperature – you shouldn’t have a problem.
Keep your bottles vertical:
Wine connoisseurs recommend storing wine bottles horizontally. But with whisky, it’s a different story.
Whisky bottles should always be stored vertically, and the reason is to do with their high alcohol content.
As we’ve already established, any given Scotch will have a minimum alcohol content of 40% (it can’t legally be called Scotch if it doesn’t).
Because of its high alcohol content, whisky has a tendency to react with cork. When whisky comes into contact with cork, it causes it to decay and gradually disintegrate. This results in oxygen entering the bottle, oxidizing its content and changing the characteristics of your whisky. Oh, and it makes your drink taste awful to boot. Keeping your bottle vertical keeps the cork in a good state and preserves your drink.
And on the subject of cork, you want to keep the cork of your bottle moist to avoid it chipping, it’s worth turning your bottle upside down once a month to keep the cork wet.
Storing an open bottle of whisky:
Everything we’ve talked about so far applies to storing a sealed bottle of Scotch. But, what happens when you crack your bottle open? How long does it keep and how should you take care of it?
Well, crucial to how long your whisky will last is how much liquid is left in the bottle.
As the folks over at Scotch Noob note:
“An opened bottle of whisky (stored away from light) with more than two-thirds of its contents remaining can be expected to remain unchanged for about one year.”
After that period, oxidation is going to start occurring. And, as we know, when oxygen binds with your whisky, it starts to affect the flavor.
The more air in the bottle (i.e.: the more Scotch is drunk), the quicker oxidation will occur. Say you’ve finished three quarters of your scotch bottle; you can expect to notice a degradation in quality in less than a month, eventually resulting a flat and tasteless tipple with few of the characteristics it once had.
So what do you do if you’re down to that last third of a bottle?
Well, there are two options. The first, and by far the most sociable, is to invite friends around for a whisky tasting evening (my favorite method). It’s a sure fire way to use up that whisky before oxidization takes its toll. Besides, sharing a drink with good company is one of life’s great pleasures.
But if you’re what the Scots would call a Jimmy-nae-mates and don’t want to share your Scotch around, you can always funnel your chosen Scotch into smaller glass bottles (with good seals) to slow down that oxidization process. It’s less fun, sure. But if you’re saving that remaining Scotch for a particular occasion, then this is the sensible option.
Can You “Age” Your Whisky?
Addressing one final question that often gets asked when it comes to whisky storage, whisky does not “age” like fine wine does. Whisky matures in the cask. Once it’s been distilled, you can’t mature it in the bottle. As Scotch Whisky Association notes, if you keep a 12 year bottle for 100 years it will remain a 12 year old bottle. Keeping that bottle closed for longer won’t improve the flavor, so don’t worry about cracking open your single malt too soon.
So that’s it for Scotch 101. Assuming you’ve followed all the advice in this guide, it’s fair to say that you now know a thing or two about the history and practices of Scotch Whisky, and the many amazing varieties of Scotch that are available. Now, all that’s left for you to do is open your bottle, pour yourself a dram and savor its flavors.
We’ve covered the world of Scotch, but we’re by no means done with the wonderful world of whisky. In the next Whisky 101 series, we’re going global, sampling the spirits of Ireland, Canada, Japan, India and everywhere in between.
So until next time, do dheagh shlàinte!
Read the Previews Scotch 101 Series:
1) Understanding Blends, Single Malts and Casks
2) Understanding Scotch Whisky Regions (Part One)
3) Understanding Scotch Whisky Regions (Part Two)
4) How to Drink Your Single Malt