No, we don’t mean you should slap on some rubber gloves and start dusting around an old bottle of Midori. We mean taking a long, hard look at whatever bottles and/or half-filled cans comprise your “liquor cabinet,” making like Madonna and saying goodbye.
Spring cleaning your liquor cabinet isn’t just about getting rid of the old. Like a garage sale, it’s about getting rid of all of your old junk so the family can get together and buy a ton of new junk. Or, in this case, delicious liquor.
But it isn’t as easy as chucking open bottles and buying brand new ones. Depending on what’s in the bottle—even if it’s open—you may actually be able to keep it. In fact, the whole idea is giving your liquor cabinet a sense of fresh spring renewal. Insofar as 20 to 40% ABV items can have a sense of fresh spring renewal.
Before you get out your Bissel or Sharknado or whatever fancy vacuum cleaners are called, read these first. We put together a few guidelines, to guide you through the (maybe) forgotten contents of your cabinet. And yes, to inspire you to go ahead and give up trying to pull the fridge out (you know your baseball glove is behind there, just leave it, now you’ll know where it is) and head over to a far more…intoxicating…project.
If it’s a liquor bottle, and it’s closed…
Keep it. That stuff will keep indefinitely. If you haven’t opened it, and kept it kindly out of direct sunlight, it should be good for a very long time indeed. (In truth, according to Ian McLaren at Bacardi, “flavor changes with spirits over 10-plus years.” If you’re a long-time collector, you know your stuff and can deal with your bottles as needed. But if you have a casual liquor cabinet, take some time to sort through what’s actually going to be used. If 10 years have passed, a question lingers: why haven’t you opened it? Maybe invite some friends over after you read this.
If it’s a liquor bottle, and it’s open…
A couple of things will happen once a bottle’s been opened. Number one: oxidation. No matter how tightly you seal the bottle, you’ll still get some oxygen creeping in there. And the less booze in the bottle, the greater the impact of the oxidation. Which is why experts recommend storing booze you want to keep in a smaller bottle (if you’ve had, let’s say, more than half). The next thing that could happen is evaporation, and that’ll be slow, but liquor bottles tend to get neglected for months if not years, so you may lose more than you think. All of this will contribute to a change in flavor. After a year, maybe a few. If you really want to save the bottle, best bet is to sample it. If it tastes decent to you, transfer it to a clean smaller bottle (a 375mL wine bottle works for this) and seal tightly. And drink it, for heaven’s sake.
If it’s closed and not milky…
You’re good to keep it, just make sure there’s no sugary crystallization. It could attract fruit flies and just make your fancy liquor cabinet look funky.
If it’s not closed and not milky…
An ABV closer to 20%, which most liqueurs have, means the liqueur won’t quite “spoil” technically but again, liqueurs are often complexly layered herbed-and-spiced concoctions. Their flavors may be impacted by sunlight, temperature fluctuations, and oxidation. Up to a year, fine, but if you’re not drinking it, chuck it.
If it’s milky and closed…
It still shouldn’t be kept for more than the bottle indicates, even if closed.
If it’s milky and opened…
Again, pay attention to the label, but your best bet is to ditch the bottle after 6 to 8 months. And, of course, keep it refrigerated after opening.
Bitters are pretty potent and highly alcoholic (and just highly everything). They’ll last. And they’re essential for good cocktails.
This probably means you’ll have to go out and actually buy a duster. Or you can use a cloth or that Bernie Sanders campaign t-shirt that, sigh, just won’t go anywhere. But dust under your bottles, around them. Dust the bottles themselves. You spent a collective several hundred dollars on them. You don’t want particulate matter—a bunch of that is skin flakes, we’re pretty sure?—all up in the bottle cap.
Wipe It Down
Give each bottle a bit of a wipe-down, with a slightly moist (but not sopping, and not soapy) cloth. Or that Trump T-shirt which, god willing, is no longer useful.
When To Admit Defeat
You know the rule about cleaning out your closets? “If you haven’t worn it in more than a year, yadda yadda yadda.” A good rule, and the same applies to alcohol. If you bought, or were given, a bottle that just doesn’t make sense with your lifestyle, and it’s been sitting there, neglected, for a year, time to make like Elsa and let it go.
When To Physically Move Your Liquor Cabinet
If it’s an actual cabinet, in a relatively cool, temperature-stable area, you’re fine. But if your alcohol is stored anywhere where there’s light or temperature fluctuations, you’ll want to move it somewhere cool (not cold, just cool) and dry, with no direct sunlight.
And this isn’t just busywork. Temperature fluctuations muck with an organic molecule called terpene, as well as limonene and pinene (which taste like lemon and pine respectively). And light, whiskey fans, can be your arch nemesis. “Researchers exposed clear bottles…of whisky to ultraviolet light—simulating the sun—for 15 days, and then used a spectrophotometer to accurately measure the color of the liquid. Bourbon lost 10 percent of its color within 15 days. Scotch lost nearly that much in the first 24 hours, dropping 40 percent of its color overall.” And before you say “well that’s just color” and go chug your whiskey before the sun destroys it, remember that color can impact taste perception. (Check the article, there’s more proof.)
If you’re out of essentials—and here’s what you’d need for a basic bar—do a bit of restocking once you’ve cleaned and, potentially, relocated your liquor cabinet.
So yeah, do yourself a favor and if you have bottles you care about, move them somewhere safer.