To Decant or not to Decant – This is the Whiskey Mystery

That image has been seen in movies and TV. It is an array of glasses strategically placed around beautiful decanters containing honey-colored liquid. The “too cool to drink” character walks over and takes the lid off, pouring himself a glass. This subtle gesture instantly lets viewers know they are seeing a smart person in a position to make a decision.

This is the image that a whiskey bottle Best whiskey decanter set evokes. It is also one reason why many spirits lovers trade in their labeled bottles for crystal ones as soon as they enter the home. The question of whether this is necessary remains open to debate.

It All Behave with the Wine Decanter

Wine connoisseurs know why they will pour the perfect blend from the bottle it came with and into a fancy decanter. This helps remove sediment and allows for oxidation. The wine’s flavors will be “opened up” by oxidation, which is good news. Over time, wine’s flavor changes due to increased oxygen exposure.

Two factors are responsible for this: alcohol and tannins. Wine has a lot of tannins from grapes. Whiskey from barrels only has trace amounts. Whiskey’s flavor can be preserved even after it is removed from its barrel due to the absence of tannins.

Whiskey’s minimum 40% alcohol content makes it more resistant against major changes. When there is so much alcohol, very few chemical reactions can occur. Wines with lower alcohol content are more susceptible to altering their composition when exposed to oxygen.

This is not true for whiskey. Whiskey is considered a finished product once it has been removed from its barrels. Even if it is kept in a decanter for 100 years, a 20-year old bottle of Scotch will still be a 20-year-old bottle. The quality of whiskey is not affected by oxygen, so the whole decanter debate is purely aesthetic.

What will affect whisky?

Although temperature fluctuations and sunlight can affect whiskey’s taste and quality, the impact is very minimal. The sun can trigger any chemical reaction in whiskey that has already occurred, much faster than oxygen. Some spirits can be clouded by sudden temperature changes, but this doesn’t affect the drink’s taste or odor.

You can see the differences in the design of decanters. Wine decanters do not have a top to encourage the liquid to interact with the air. Whiskey decanters, on the other hand, are often elaborately designed and have a large crystal top to prevent you from spilling your liquor. It doesn’t matter if the air is in your decanter or not, as long as you don’t look like a millionaire while sipping a nightcap.

Wine vs. Whiskey Decanting

Decanting wine serves one purpose. It aerates, removes sediment, and encourages oxidation. For whiskey, however, it is not recommended to be exposed to oxygen (air).

It is considered finished once it has been bottled.

The integrity of whiskey can be maintained by keeping it in a sealed container. If you plan to use a decanter, ensure that it is sealed tightly.

Decanters made specifically for whiskey will usually have tighter glass stoppers and wider bottoms to increase stability.

Why should I decant whiskey?

Three main reasons people decant whiskeys are:

1) Decanters are very attractive and can add a beautiful look to your home bar.

2) A small decanter with a tight seal can keep the whiskey longer because it will reduce the ‘oxygenhead’ of the whiskey during storage.

A whiskey tasting can be enhanced by having an unlabeled whiskey available for everyone to try.

How long will whisky last in a decanter?
Spirits will last at most for 1-2 years if they are sealed properly.

You can use the same storage “rule of thumb” for whiskey as when it is in the bottle. It’s still important to regulate the whiskey’s light, air, temperature, and humidity.

How do you tell if whiskey is bad?


As mentioned above, whiskey won’t ‘go bad’ and become unsafe to drink. Because whiskey is high-proof alcohol it’s difficult for bacteria and mold to grow.

However, whiskey can develop ‘flavor drift’ as it ages. This can lead to a strong, pungent flavor that is reminiscent of rubber balloons or plastic.

You’ll likely experience something subtle, like Scotch losing some smoke/peat and shifting towards a lighter/sweeter profile.

Here are some things you should do to ensure that your whiskey is safe.

See the Seal

If the cork of the bottle is damaged or moldy, it could be an indication that the bottle has been exposed to too much humidity and air.

Screw caps should not leak from bottles. It’s common for screw caps to loosen over time, so to prevent evaporation/oxidation make sure to check your caps every couple of months or so.

Check Coloration

You will notice a change in color over time. This is usually caused by unwanted sunlight exposure.


You can either smell the whiskey straight from the bottle, or you can pour yourself a glass. It may be difficult to detect a subtle change in whiskey if you aren’t used to picking out aroma notes.


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