As a whiskey cocktail creator I spend a lot of time answering questions about whiskey and one I get fairly often is, “Can I keep my bourbon in the freezer?” Generally, when I’m asked this, it’s by someone who is relatively new to bourbon and has a family member that keeps whiskey or liquor in the freezer. Any true bourbon lover will tell you to drink it any damn way you please (in the immortal words of Fred Noe of Jim Beam Distillery) because we all know the best thing about bourbon is that you get to enjoy the way you want.
Drinking your bourbon with a splash of water, or even straight from the freezer doesn’t make you less of a bourbon drinker. It just means you know how you like to drink that particular bourbon. Don’t let anyone else tell you any different. Your palate is yours. It’s never wrong. It’s right for YOU.
Because I create cocktails, I’m always considering how flavors are affected by temperature and dilution. A couple of facts:
- Temperature does affect the flavor and viscosity of fluids, and those are two elements of taste that drive our enjoyment of any spirit.
- It’s estimated that 70-80% of our sense of taste comes from our ability to smell things. That means flavor is largely driven by smell.
Here are 5 Facts About Keeping Spirits in the Freezer:
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1. Freezer Mutes Bourbon and Whiskey Flavors
The flavor and aromas of bourbon, whiskey or any spirit come from the volatiles in the liquid. Volatiles are molecules that contain some of the properties that give smell and taste to something. They have a lower molecular weight which makes it easier for them to vaporize into the air.
Volatiles are the compounds in whiskey that give it its aroma and flavor. When those chemical particles are heated or exposed to excess energy, they are driven into the air where our noses inhale them and they make it to our olfactory receptors.
As those chemicals bind to different types of olfactory receptors, our brain interprets that as a scent. Combinations of chemicals elicit a sensory response in humans that connects a certain smell with our past knowledge of that same scent. For more on this whole process head to https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/smell/2015/making-sense-of-scents-smell-and-the-brain.
Because the temperature of a liquid relates to how much energy it has, freezing a liquid means that the volatile chemicals have less energy, and therefore find it hard to vaporize into the air. Simply put, those compounds stay put in the liquid or substance as it gets closer to freezing.
2. What Happens When You Sip Whiskey from the Freezer
Now as you take a sip of chilled whiskey from the freezer you’ll smell far less of that wonderful scent. As it hits the tongue and mouth it warms up and some of those volatile chemicals release from the liquid into the mouth and into the olfactory area. The full taste will be muted.
To test this pour two glasses of whiskey and place one in the freezer for 30 minutes. Compare the taste of the two together.
If you are a person who loves higher-proof whiskies and delights in parsing all the variations of flavor in your bourbon you may not want to store your bourbon in the freezer. However, if you prefer a smoother, chilled, muted drinking experience, you may find chilled whiskey is your preference.
In fact, you might have some bourbons you prefer from the freezer and some you prefer room temperature.
3. Why Put Bourbon or Any Alcohol in the Freezer?
So why do this at all? Some people prefer their drinks cold. Especially in the US, with our love affair with ice in everything, colder beverages can be more refreshing, especially in hot weather. For someone who normally drinks their bourbons neat, a higher-proof whiskey in the summer might be more refreshing when poured from the freezer.
If you’re someone who loves working with cocktails, there are times in the summer or in hot weather when I will keep some of my liquors and spirits in the freezer because keeping them at room temperature means I lose add a lot of water during mixing and shaking, and because it keeps the cocktail colder for longer – especially if the glass is also chilled.
If I know I’m making martinis or manhattans for cocktail lovers who prefer them VERY cold, I often prebatch them and move them to the freezer so they are extremely cold when served.
Many people store their vodka in the freezer, but vodka is known for its lack of flavor and it doesn’t have as many volatile compounds as whiskey, rum or other aged products have. Chilling vodka improves its mouthfeel by making it very viscous and creamy to sip. Some spirits that are thin in the mouth may improve their sipping experience when tried chilled.
This all comes down to preference. I will not presume to tell you how to drink your whiskey and bourbon except to say that you should experiment and find out what your palate prefers. Over time this may change. If your preference changes to more assertive and complex bourbons you may move to drink your whiskey at room temperature to be able to detect those flavors better.
4. Will my Bourbon or Liquor Freeze at Home?
For bourbon and whiskies which are generally 40% alcohol (80 proof) and higher, you don’t have to worry about freezing the bottle solid, even if stored in the freezer at home. Freezers at home generally bottom out at -17F (-27C).
So if you want to keep your 80 proof and higher spirits in the freezer for any reason you can do so at home safely.
However, lower proof or ABV liquor can freeze depending on the proof and the temperature of the freezer. Here’s what to know:
Items at 60 proof – 30% alcohol – have a freezing point of 5F or -15C. This would include vodkas, whiskies, slightly sweet spirits like Frangelico, Amaretto or many flavored whiskies. These spirits can be stored in the freezer and should not freeze. They will likely get extremely viscous as the temperature drops.
For items at 40 proof – 20-25% alcohol – you need to be much more careful. These liquors, like Triple Sec, flavored rums, creme liqueur and Kahlua may be able to freeze. Their freezing point is 15F or -9C, so a home freezer could get cold enough to freeze them. Do not leave them in for more than a couple of hours.
Anything lower than 40 proof, 20-25% alcohol, cannot be stored in the freezer.
5. Some Bourbons and Whiskies Get Cloudy in the Freezer
If you put a bottle in the freezer and pull it out and notice that the whiskey is now slightly cloudy, do not panic. Your whiskey has NOT gone bad. This occurrence, called flocculation or floccing, happens when chemical compounds clump together as the temperature drops. Usually, fatty acids in the whiskey cause this.
Generally, floccing only occurs in whiskies of lower ABV – around 46% or lower. To deal with this some brands chill filter their spirit. This means the whiskey is taken to a lower temperature, then run through a series of filters to capture the particles the distiller wants to remove from the liquid.
Does chill-filtration change the taste of the whiskey? Yes, probably. The filters sometimes also remove long-chain esters which drive a lot of whiskey flavor. But that change may be something that the distillers want in order to manipulate the flavor profile of their spirit. Some distillers chill-filter even though their product is bottled above the floc point because they want to refine the flavor of the spirit.
Whether or not it changes the flavor in a revealing way, chill filtration does reduce that cloudiness you can see in some chilled, lower-proof whiskies. But remember that each distiller makes adjustments to the blending and bottling of her whiskies in order to make the whiskey to a certain flavor, aroma, and color profile. For more information on chill-filtration, head to this article by Whisky Advocate.
If you prefer clear, amber whiskey, and you’re drinking a non-chill filtered spirit below 46% ABV, you’ll want to keep your whiskey out of the freezer.
Conclusion: You Do You
As with everything in whiskey and spirits, much of it comes down to personal preference. Whiskey lovers are particular about how they enjoy their spirits, and if they love a sip or a great bourbon from the freezer just like their parents enjoyed, there’s no harm in that. So much of the way we love bourbon and whiskey has to do with our memories and experiences. Sometimes those drive our enjoyment of the pour in our glass as much as the specific whiskey itself. Cheers!