Alcohol can expire. The shelf life can vary greatly depending on various factors, including the amount of ethanol the beverage contains.

Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is a compound present in alcoholic beverages. Producers make ethanol by using yeast to ferment the sugars in fruits, vegetables, or grains. Common examples include using grapes to make wine or potatoes to make vodka.

While liquors may last the longest, their shelf lives can change with the addition of ingredients, such as dairy cream.

This article explains whether alcohol expires, discussing wine, beer, and liquors.

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Different types of alcoholic drinks differ in ingredients, amounts of alcohol, storage conditions, and manufacturing processes. Whether a particular alcoholic beverage can go bad — and how quickly — will depend on these factors.

For instance, people may consider wine to get better with age and expect beer to go off sooner. However, liquor has a higher alcohol content, so people may expect it to last longer.

Alcohol is a recognized preservative. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency lists ethyl alcohol as a Generally Recognized As Safe antimicrobial agent and preservative for use in certain foods.

Therefore, it is worth noting that beer tends to contain between 2.7% and 4.8% alcohol. Wine usually comprises around 13.5% alcohol, whereas liquors without mixers tend to contain around 40% alcohol.

People commonly believe that wine gets better with age. Below are studies that may support this theory.

Reducing bitterness

The researchers of a 2021 review reported that wine reaches its optimum quality after a certain amount of time in the bottle.

They said that storing wine in bottles causes complex chemical changes relating to oxygen limitation. This reduces the wine’s astringency and bitterness, improves its aroma, and lightens and stabilizes its color.


Regarding white wine in particular, one 2019 study found that oxygen transfer where the cork meets the neck of the bottle could be an important factor in the oxidation of the wine during bottle aging. This could noticeably change the chemical structure of the wine.

Dark storage and cork type

Another study from 2021 found that temperature and light exposure in retail outlets can considerably reduce the quality of bottled white wine. This also reduces its shelf life. Wine stored in darkness at 12°C (53.6°F) retained similar properties to wine before bottling. Additionally, cork type — specifically high quality natural or micro granulated — better preserved the sensory profile of the wine.

Wine producers add antioxidants, such as sulfur oxide, to prevent excessive oxidation and the resulting deterioration of the wine. The bottles also need to be closed with suitable stoppers and stored in stable conditions to prevent the development of unwanted coloration, aroma, or flavor.

The shelf life of beer depends on the type of beer. For instance, a 2020 study reported that craft beers commonly remain unfiltered and unpasteurized. This makes them rich in health compounds but reduces shelf life.

A 2022 review described the challenge for the beer industry in maintaining the quality of beer despite researchers studying this subject extensively. The study’s authors found that the entire production process from field to consumer needs monitoring to maintain a beer’s quality and stability during its shelf life.

A 2023 study also discussed the issue of diminishing beer quality over time. This is due to the buildup of certain compounds resulting from oxidation and leading to stale beer.

Making beer last longer

During a traditional practice known as refermentation, producers add Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells to beer before bottling, also known as “brewer’s yeast” or “baker’s yeast.” This reduces the buildup of aldehydes that make the beer stale.

Even so, the yeasts commonly added to beer only have a limited lifespan. However, the researchers of this study claimed to have found a way to breed novel bacteria that act as natural and sustainable antioxidant preservatives for foods and drinks, such as beer.

The umbrella term “liquor” tends to cover strong, sweet, alcoholic beverages, usually distilled spirits such as brandy, whiskey, or rum. Producers make these drinks by combining spirits with sugar and flavorings.

Of all the types of alcohol, liquor tends to have the highest percentage of alcohol by volume. As alcohol is a preservative, in theory, these drinks should last the longest before going bad.

Even cream liqueurs that contain dairy cream, which has a limited shelf life, have enough alcohol to prevent bacteria from growing. High quality cream liqueurs can last as long as 2 years if stored in ambient conditions, and refrigeration can extend their shelf life even further.

Wine that has gone bad turns into vinegar. The high acid content inhibits the growth of bacteria that could otherwise make you sick if you drank the expired wine.

The impaired flavor may be the greatest issue specific to alcohol that has expired, but these drinks still carry the same risks to health as all alcoholic drinks, whether expired or not.

Alcohol and health

A 2020 review of the evidence on alcohol and human health found that the health effects of alcohol depend on how much a person drinks.

The researchers found that consuming up to 14 grams (g) of alcohol a day for females and up to 28 g a day for males may be linked to decreased risk of death, especially from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Experts define this as light or moderate alcohol consumption.

However, long-term heavy alcohol consumption or alcohol misuse resulted in alcohol use disorder, according to their findings. This can lead to physical and mental disorders, including:

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say there is no known safe amount of alcohol a person can drink during pregnancy or while trying to conceive.

Learn more about the health effects of alcohol.

The alcohol in alcoholic drinks is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Different alcoholic beverages contain varying amounts of this type of alcohol.

The ethyl alcohol content can affect the shelf life of these drinks, along with other factors, including their individual ingredients and how they are manufactured and stored. Liquor tends to contain the highest proportion of alcohol, followed by wine and then beer.

The health risks associated with drinking expired alcohol tend to be the same as those associated with drinking alcohol within its shelf life.