Brandy holds a place in many liquor cabinets, but not everyone knows whether or not this spirit can go bad. After all, brandy is distilled from wine, and doesn’t wine eventually spoil if left open too long? Before you despair at that half open bottle that’s been lurking in your pantry since last New Year’s Eve, read on to find the answer to the question, “can brandy go bad?"
Can brandy go bad?
Because of the high alcohol content of brandy, this spirit won’t go bad in terms of food safety. In fact, unopened brandy can keep indefinitely if properly stored. Like other spirits, brandy should be kept in a tightly sealed container, away from heat, or light. Once a bottle of brandy has been opened, while it can still be stored pretty much indefinitely, there will be some changes to the taste and quality. Proper storage is very important to protect the flavor and quality for as long as possible.
Signs of Spoilage
As brandy doesn’t really spoil as in grow mold, or go rotten, safety is of less of an issue here. The high alcohol content of brandy is protective in a lot of ways. Mold, bacteria or other pathogens will not grow in a sealed bottle of brandy, so for the most part, it is safe to consume brandy that has been opened for a very long time. However, the high alcohol content does mean that brandy is susceptible to two natural processes which will degrade its quality: oxidation and evaporation.
Oxidation is a process that occurs when the compounds in brandy are exposed to oxygen, and the flavors degrade as a result. Further exposure to heat or light can speed up oxidation. While some individuals may still enjoy a slightly less flavorful bottle of brandy, eventually the taste will become quite flat. Oxidation will eventually occur, but this process can be slowed by proper storage.
As alcohol evaporates more readily than water does, brandy that is improperly stored can weaken over time as well as lose flavor. Storing brandy in a tightly sealed container, and in a cool, dark location should slow evaporation as well as oxidation, keeping your brandy in top shape as long as possible.
Storing Brandy Long Term
If you have an opened bottle of brandy that you aren’t going to consume for some time, the best option is likely to store the bottle in the darkest, coolest place of your basement or pantry. If you live in a particularly warm climate that experiences a lot of temperature fluctuations, you may want to store the bottle in either your freezer or refrigerator. In either case, be sure to keep the bottle far from the door (where it would be exposed to warmth and light), and keep the temperature somewhat constant. Remove the bottle to pour a drink, but replace it in the fridge or freezer quickly, so as not to allow the bottle to become warm. Temperature changes tend to oxidize spirits more rapidly.
Image used under Creative Commons from Richard Gailey
If your bottle of brandy has been in the cabinet for a while, and seems to have lost its flavor, you can still revive this spirit! Brandy is excellent when infused with either dried fruit or spices. Be sure that you are infusing the brandy with something low in moisture – vanilla beans, cinnamon, cloves and dried fruit all work wonderfully. Simply add the spices or dried fruit to a sealable jar, and fill most of the way with brandy (don’t leave too much air space). Seal the jar tightly, shake a few times and then leave in a cool, dark place for a few weeks to six months, and you will have a delicious infused brandy that can even be used as an extract in baking.