We all know about the importance of freshness in beer, right? About how all but a small fraction of beers – and wines, for that matter – taste best when they are consumed soon after packaging?
Of course, we do. But what about spirits?
For many of us, spirits are considered bullet-proof. Open the bottle, pour a shot or three and stick it back in the cupboard for a later time, occasionally a much later time. Do it again in a few months, and then again a few months after that, and before you know it you have a bottle of whisky or rum or gin that’s been open and exposed to air for over a year. Which is precisely what happened to me recently.
I have a rather large liquor cabinet – that’s not bragging, just a consequence of the job I do – and because of this fact, bottles occasionally get, well, lost in it. I don’t mean for it to happen, it just does. Sometimes to bottles I’d really rather be drinking than avoiding.
And so it was that when I went to place a new bottle of Rogue Spruce Gin into the cabinet recently, I discovered hidden in the back of the clear liquors shelf an older bottle of the same spirit, probably about eighteen months or so old. I honestly didn’t know it was there, and bemoaned the loss of the inch or so of gin sitting in it, but, ever the opportunist, recognized in it a chance to experiment with fresh and stale flavours in gin. So out it, and the new bottle, came.
I poured about an ounce of each and first nosed, then tasted them, after which I closed my eyes, moved the glasses around enough that I forgot which was which and did it all again. Here’s what I found.
There was no question as to which was the older gin. In place of the fresh evergreen aromas that pretty much leap from the glass of fresh gin, the unintentionally aged spirit showed more of a menthol and mint character, and a flatness of aroma and taste that I associate with dried herbs that have passed their use by date. (Remember, kids, never let your spices see their first birthday!) Where the new spirit has a liveliness and vivacity that makes it dance on your tongue – and how the Rogue Gin do dance! – the older one just sat there, being alcoholic and drab.
My friend and Malt Advocate publisher John Hansell places tight restrictions on how long he allows an open bottle of whisky to remain on his shelf, hosting regular tastings and social occasions to use up the good ones that have been hanging around too long. This is why. Liquor is not bullet-proof, and the character of some, like the fragrant beauty of a good gin, is even more fragile than that of others. End of lesson.