Many people like to chill their whiskey so it’s only natural to wonder whether using the fridge or freezer to do that would be a good idea, or if it would have too great an impact on the whiskey. That’s why I decided to look into whether whiskey goes bad in the fridge or freezer and here’s what I found.
Whiskey goes bad in the fridge or freezer because, at lower temperatures, its aromas and flavors become muted, and the whiskey can become cloudy. Fortunately, the damage is only temporary and when the whiskey warms up to room temperature its aromas and flavors return, and the cloudiness disappears.
In the rest of this article, I’ll explain why whiskey goes bad in the fridge or freezer in more detail. I’ll also mention times when keeping your whiskey in the fridge or freezer, will actually make it taste better.
(As a side note, I wrote an article that explains all the things that can make whiskey go bad even when it’s not left in the fridge or freezer, which you can find here.)
Why Whiskey Goes Bad in The Fridge or Freezer
As mentioned, whiskey goes bad in the fridge or freezer for two reasons. Because it’s aromas and flavors become muted, and because it can become cloudy.
Its Aromas and Flavors Become Muted
Cold temperatures mute a whiskey’s aromas and flavors. That’s because flavor molecules don’t evaporate at lower temperatures and if they don’t evaporate you can’t smell them. And since flavor is smell as well as taste, with no aromas to smell you won’t get all the whiskey’s flavors either.
This is a major problem because the whole point of whiskey is to get as much as you can from its aromas and flavors. This is especially true with high-quality whiskeys that can have dozens of flavors.
Additionally, because of whiskey’s high alcohol content level (between 40% – 68%ABV) many of its flavors are already closed up. That’s why whiskey drinkers take steps to reduce the impact of the alcohol – for example by using a nosing glass or adding water. They want to do what they can to release the flavors of their whiskey. Putting it in the fridge or freezer does the exact opposite!
It Can Become Cloudy
Very cold temperatures can make whiskey become cloudy. That’s because its natural fatty acids, esters and proteins, that are usually dissolved in the alcohol, un-dissolve at lower temperatures. They then clump together and once there are enough of them, make your whiskey cloudy.
This is a problem because it looks like your whiskey’s gone bad and even though it hasn’t, having clumps of weird stuff in your drink can be very off-putting.
It’s also a problem because a whiskey’s color can tell you several things about it – for example how it was matured, how flavorful it will be and even some of the specific flavors it will have. Which is why some people like to visually assess their whiskey before drinking it. Obviously, this becomes much more difficult if not impossible, when your whiskey is cloudy.
Not all whiskeys become cloudy when kept in the fridge or freezer. Since cloudy whiskey is undesirable for the above-mentioned reasons, many distilleries decided to chill filter their whiskeys to ensure that they can never become cloudy.
All that means is they chill the whiskey until the fatty acids, esters and proteins un-dissolve and then filter out these clumps. That way when you chill your whiskey at home, the molecules that would have un-dissolved and clumped together to make your whiskey cloudy, are no longer present to do so and your whiskey retains its golden color.
However, if your whiskey is not chill filtered (a possibility as many believe that the fatty acids, esters and proteins give a whiskey much of its flavor and therefore they shouldn’t be filtered out), then it can become cloudy in the fridge or freezer.
What To Do with Whiskey Kept in The Fridge or Freezer
It’s important to know that if you have left your whiskey in the fridge or freezer for long enough that its aromas and flavors have become muted and it has become cloudy, you should not throw it away. That’s because the damage is temporary and not permanent.
It’s also important to know that it’s very easy to reverse both problems.
All you need to do is let your whiskey warm up to room temperature. Its flavor molecules will now evaporate, and you’ll be able to smell your whiskey’s aromas and therefore taste all its flavors. Additionally, the fatty acids, esters and proteins will re-dissolve and your whiskey’s original golden appearance will be restored.
In other words, while whiskey goes bad in the fridge or freezer, it’s restored when returned to room temperature.
When Whiskey Kept in The Fridge or Freezer Tastes Better
In general, whiskey shouldn’t be stored in the fridge or freezer because it mutes its aromas and flavors and can cause it to become cloudy. For more information about how to store whiskey properly, see the more detailed article I wrote about it here. That being said, there are times when keeping your whiskey in the fridge or freezer will actually make it taste better.
You Want to Dull the Burn of the Alcohol
As mentioned, whiskey has a high alcohol content level which keeps its flavors closed up, but it also makes the whiskey burn when you drink it. This can (temporarily) numb your nose and palate, which means that you won’t be able to smell or taste any of your whiskey’s aromas and flavors at all.
That’s why many people chill their whiskey, because at a lower temperature the burn of the alcohol is reduced. Often people use ice cubes or whiskey stones to chill their whiskey, but that can cause problems too. Ice cubes melt and the added water can dilute your whiskey. Whiskey stones won’t melt, but they aren’t as effective as ice cubes, and they can scratch or break your glass.
Putting your whiskey in the fridge or freezer for a short period of time allows you to chill your whiskey properly without any possibility of it becoming diluted. Although reducing the burn of the whiskey this way also mutes some of its aromas and flavors, since it leaves your nose and palate able to function and pick up some of them, your whiskey will taste better than it otherwise would.
You Want to Pick Up More of The Aromas
As mentioned, smelling whiskey is important but, believe it or not, using your nose is not the most effective way to do it.
That’s because by the time you smell your whiskey some of its aroma molecules will no longer be around for you to pick up, as they start to dissipate as soon as your pour your whiskey into the glass. Also, the aromas you do detect become weaker as they travel the relatively long journey from the glass into your nostrils and up to the olfactory receptors on the roof of your nasal cavity, making them more difficult to detect.
Putting your whiskey in the fridge or freezer can make it taste better because you now have a more powerful way of picking up its aromas when you let the cold whiskey warm up in your mouth.
Since the whiskey starts off cold, the flavors molecules are unable to evaporate until they’re warmed up in your mouth, so none of them will be lost. And since there’s now a shorter route for the aromas to travel – from the back of your throat and up the nasal cavity to olfactory receptors, they won’t be as weak when they arrive, and you’ll be able to detect more of them.
You Want to Neutralize Its Bad Flavors
The whole problem with putting whiskey in the fridge or freezer is that it mutes its aromas and flavors. Since the main purpose of drinking whiskey is to get as much as you can from its aromas and flavors, this is something you wouldn’t ordinarily want, however sometimes, this can work to your advantage.
Some whiskeys are low quality and taste bad and others may have good flavors that you personally don’t like. Such whiskeys won’t be good for sipping, but they can still be good to drink as shots as you won’t be tasting the bad flavors for very long. However, you can make even your whiskey shots taste better by putting bad tasting whiskey in the fridge or freezer first to neutralize their bad flavors.
You Want a Refreshing Drink
While smelling all its aromas and tasting all its flavors is the main way to drink whiskey, you may prefer or may be in the mood for a cool, refreshing drink as well as a whiskey.
If that’s what you want, then obviously a whiskey that’s been cooled in the fridge or freezer will definitely taste better.