Ask Amy Drew: Do spirits expire?

Orlando Sentinel

Jan 25, 2022 5:00 AM

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For top-shelf Negronis, store Campari in the fridge, says Soseki beverage director Benjamin Coutts.

For top-shelf Negronis, store Campari in the fridge, says Soseki beverage director Benjamin Coutts. (MarianVejcik / iStock via Getty Images)

I have a question for you. I know this is a great time of year to clean out the fridge, freezer and pantry but what about the liquor cabinet? While the staples turn over pretty quickly in our house (no dry January here!), I’ve had some cordials for awhile. I’ve had a craving for a Negroni this weekend and I have Campari in the back of the cabinet, but I couldn’t tell you when I bought it! It’s likely been at least a few years. Is it still okay to use? Even if it technically isn’t bad, do spirits like that start to lose some of their spunk after a few years?

Beverage director Benjamin Coutts deals in wine and sake in his role at Soskekj, but in previous posts, spirits were front and center.

Beverage director Benjamin Coutts deals in wine and sake in his role at Soskekj, but in previous posts, spirits were front and center. (Stephen M. Dowell)

Kathryn, I am thrilled that you asked this question because a few months ago, my father — a former bar owner — gifted to me a couple of long-stored boxes filled with fairly ancient bottles of booze, most of which are at least 20 years old.

A handful remain unopened, most are at least majority-full and few are reminiscent of bad decisions (Rumple Minze, anyone?). It’s a fun haul I haven’t had much time to go through, but full disclosure: I did crack into that bottle of vintage Jack at one point.

So, your email was the perfect excuse to tap into the well of knowledge that is Benjamin Coutts, beverage director at Soseki Modern Omakase, whose career — his previous post was The Wellborn’s assistant general manager — was not always limited to wine and sake.

While likely still OK to use, there are some spirits that will lose some of their vibrancy and freshness over a few years.

I moved my Campari to the fridge after my conversation with Benjamin Coutts. Now I think of Negronis while sipping my coffee.

I moved my Campari to the fridge after my conversation with Benjamin Coutts. Now I think of Negronis while sipping my coffee. (Amy Drew Thompson / Orlando Sentinel)

“Something like Campari you always want to store in the refrigerator, open or not, so I’d give it a little taste,” he advises. “The color will also be an indicator of how old it is and whether it’s past its prime. Campari generally has that beautiful red color, you may see that fade or go a little brown.”

As for those cordials? Coutts says to toss anything that’s cream-based, “Bailey’s, Kahlua, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur — that sort of thing. These last 18 months maximum and you always want to refrigerate.”

Liqueurs like Gran Marnier or Chambord are more forgiving.

“Because they are higher in alcohol, they can go a year to 18 months at room temperature, stored in a cool, dark place. Not on top of the fridge, not in the cabinet next to the dishwasher and definitely not in the garage or anyplace that isn’t air-conditioned.”

The bread recipe was beautiful, but bland, wrote this reader. Orlando baker Cesar Cruz of CM Bakari offers tips on making basic better.

You can keep your bar well-stocked, but less wasteful, he notes, by going smaller. “Buy the 375 ml size if you don’t use them on a regular basis.”

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You can also store sippers, such as Sambuca, in the freezer long-term.

“They’re not going to freeze,” he says. “But they’ll last indefinitely.”

Standard spirits (rum, bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, tequila, etc.) unopened and properly stored, are entirely shelf-stable. Once opened, there could be evaporation over time and they might go a little dull, but Coutts says it could be years before you’d notice.

Flavored-vodkas don’t count. “Keep it in the fridge, eight or nine months max — but you shouldn’t be drinking flavored vodka to begin with!”

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