How Long Can You Keep Bourbon in a Decanter?

A decanter adds elegance and style to any room. The crystal shows off the bourbon’s natural hues, and pouring bourbon from a decanter is far more stylish than from a bottle. But how long should one keep bourbon in a decanter before it loses its flavor?

You can keep bourbon in a glass decanter for several months. However, because most decanters do not have an airtight seal, they are not ideal for storing bourbon. But if the decanter has an airtight seal, the bourbon can retain its flavor for several months.

Historically, whiskey and bourbon decanters were used to carry liquor from a barrel, but now, liquor decanters are a mark of sophistication and luxury. Keep reading to find out how long you can store your whiskey. After all, you want it to look and taste good.

bourbon decanter

The Bourbon Decanter Must Have an Airtight Seal

How long you can keep bourbon in a decanter depends on how much bourbon is in the decanter and how airtight the decanter is. Every time you pour a drink, new air enters the decanter, and that can affect its flavor. 

So an airtight seal is a must in keeping your bourbon fresher longer.

Bourbon should not be stored in lead crystal decanters for more than several days, as the lead will quickly leach into the bourbon to unacceptable levels.

Does Bourbon Go Bad In an Unopened Bottle?

Bourbon does not go bad in an unopened bottle, as it can be stored for decades if done correctly. However, once a bottle of bourbon is opened, it has about 1 to 2 years before it turns bad.

You’ve heard the phrase “ages like fine wine.” Bourbon, however, does not age once it is bottled. The bourbon’s age refers to how long it was stored in a barrel, not how long it sat in a bottle.

Bourbon stays unchanged after being bottled, while wine changes primarily due to tannins.

Wine has naturally occurring tannins from the grapes, and barrel aging adds more tannins to the wine. However, bourbon contains no natural tannins and receives only a tiny amount from the barrel as it ages.

The amount of bourbon and how it is stored affects how long it will taste good in an opened bottle. The following section discusses that in more detail.

What Causes Bourbon To Go Bad?

The bourbon starts to go bad when you open the bottle because it is exposed to oxygen. It makes sense that bourbon will react with oxygen since oxidation is critical as bourbon is aged. However, dissipation plays a more important role in bourbon’s flavor changes. 

In the initial stages of barrel maturation, alcohol molecules in bourbon do not taste good. However, oxidation breaks down these molecules until the contents have a pleasing taste.

But oxidation doesn’t happen overnight, so there must be another culprit that changes the flavor of opened bourbon. The guilty party is dissipation.

bourbon decanter

When you pour a glass of bourbon, you smell the alcohol, caramel, vanillas, and other odors of your drink. This is because those molecules dispersed through the air when you poured your bourbon. This is dissipation, which is a chemical process that can’t be undone.

According to bourbon experts, its flavor isn’t affected as much by oxidation and the amount of air in the decanter. Instead, each time you pour bourbon, the air further dilutes the aromatic molecules. And this affects later pours by flattening the bourbon’s aromas.

As we begin to lose those delightful nuances, we think the bourbon has gone bad.

Aroma Affects Your Bourbon Experience

When we eat or drink, we rely on both taste and smell.

When the nose detects scent molecules, the odor receptors signal to the brain they have encountered a specific smell. Likewise, our sense of taste happens when food or drink activates our taste buds, and their receptors signal the brain what they are tasting.

However, your tongue can only distinguish between salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and savory. Without your sense of smell, you are stuck with those five flavors. So when you catch a common cold or have allergies, food has no taste.

This is why dissipation affects your bourbon.

Can I Use a Crystal Decanter for Storing Bourbon?

You can use a crystal decanter to serve bourbon, but long-term storage in a leaded crystal decanter can cause some of the lead crystal to leach from the crystal to your drink.

Crystal glass is manufactured by adding lead compounds to molten sand before it cools and turns into glass. Lead crystal typically contains around 25% lead oxide.

Tiny amounts of lead can seep out if beverages are stored in lead crystal decanters for an extended period. The maximum permissible level of lead is 50 micrograms per liter (33.8 fl oz). So if port wine can contain 4,000 micrograms in a matter of months, how much lead can leach into your bourbon?

bourbon decanter

Don’t fret if you want to store your bourbon in crystal. You can find lead-free crystal decanters. However, if you’re unsure whether your decanter’s crystal is really lead-free, here are two ways to test for lead:

  • The weight of a decanter is one way to tell if it contains lead, as lead glass is noticeably heavier than unleaded glass.
  • If you see a rainbow when you shine light through the glass, then you have leaded glassware.

If you have a crystal decanter, you can safely pour from it, but you should not use it to store bourbon.

Tips for Storing Unopened Bourbon

These tips for storing bourbon will come in handy once you can gauge how much to keep in storage.

They are also essential for collectors, because who wants to ruin a $100 bottle of W.L. Weller Antique 107, Booker’s Bourbon, or Belle Meade Reserve?

Bourbon should be stored upright. Wine is stored sideways so the cork won’t dry out, but the higher alcohol concentration will cause the cork to disintegrate eventually. The alcohol content should keep the cork moist enough to prevent oxygen from creeping into the bottle.

To be on the safe side, rest the bottles on their side for an hour or two occasionally.

Excessive light will also negatively impact bourbon’s flavor, especially direct sunshine. The results of a two-year study support this advice.  A dark location, such as a cabinet or, if you have one, a cellar, is ideal for bottles. 

Extreme temperature fluctuations can cause bourbon to expand, which can cause the cork to dry out, and which can cause air to creep in. It is best to store bourbon in a location that has consistent temperatures.

Bottom Line

As long as you don’t store bourbon in a lead crystal decanter, you can safely keep it in the decanter for six months.

Keep in mind that you are dissipating its odors every time you let fresh air into the container. If you start to notice a change in flavor, mix in a little fresh bourbon, or better yet, adjust how much bourbon you pour into your decanter.

Read Also: Can You Put Tequila in a Decanter?

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