Whether you enjoy vodka "neat" or as part of a cocktail, the versatile distilled spirit is an essential part of anyone's liquor collection. The high alcohol content of vodka gives it an almost indefinite shelf life, though extreme temperatures -- both high and low -- can affect its flavor over time. For optimal taste, keep your vodka stored in a cool, dry location.
The Low-Down on Vodka
Vodka is a type of alcoholic beverage that is made by fermenting grains, potatoes, fruits or sugar and then distilling the resulting liquid to increase its alcohol content. Most types of vodka contain around 40 percent alcohol, which is about four times the amount of alcohol found in wine, which is why vodka lasts so long. Alcohol prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms in the liquid, thus preventing it from becoming spoiled. Both opened and unopened vodka can last indefinitely. Unfortunately, heat can start to evaporate the alcohol content in your vodka, shortening its shelf life and negatively affecting its flavor.
Hot Vodka Doesn't Age Gracefully
Unlike wine, which continues to age and improve in flavor after it is bottled, vodka stays the same. It is typically shelf-stable for up to around eight months before it begins to taste flat. The flat flavor is caused by the evaporation of the alcohol in the vodka, which lowers the alcohol content in the liquid. The lower alcohol content also means that spoilage microorganisms may affect the vodka, causing it to taste unpleasant over time. Of course, the high boiling point of vodka -- 173 degrees Fahrenheit -- means that it will take months or years for this to happen to your vodka if stored in a constantly hot locale.
Don't Let Your Vodka Feel the Heat
To maintain the integrity of your vodka, store it at room temperature in its original glass container inside a cabinet. Keep it away from direct sunlight and your oven or other appliances that give off heat. While you can store your vodka in a freezer, because the alcohol won't freeze solid at 0 F, extremely cold temperatures can affect the flavor of vodka over an extended period of time. Instead, keep it at room temperature until the day you wish to serve it and pop it into the refrigerator for a few hours to chill it. Serve your vodka between 41 and 44 F.
What's in the Mix?
Mixed cocktail drinks containing vodka will spoil when exposed to extreme heat, because fruit, dairy or vegetable-based ingredients will quickly go bad unless refrigerated at 40 F or below. If your vodka or mixed drink smells or tastes unpleasant and develops an unusual color, discard it immediately. Note that you can cook with vodka, but that doing so usually will evaporate the alcohol contained in it away, leaving behind only its flavor in your finished main dishes or desserts.
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- LifeScience: What Is Vodka?
- University of California, Davis: Properties of Alcohols
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.