Does Rum Go Bad? An Investigation

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Does rum go bad? How can you tell? I've put my reporting fedora on at a jaunty angle to get to work. You see, I love rum. When I first started drinking at the ripe old age of 18, rum was my go-to drink. I never drank it straight in those days. No, like so many others, I preferred it with a Coke or another mixer.

Over the years, my taste in booze evolved, and I began to enjoy rum all on its own. It was sweet but not cloying, spicy but not floral, and for whatever reason, it seemed to be the secret to crafting the perfect tiki cocktail. When Pirates of the Caribbean's Captain Jack Sparrow mourned the loss of his stash of rum, I was right there with him. 


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Rum, like other booze, is awesome, but taking care of it can be trickier than you might think. In theory, alcohol should be "good" to drink forever, right? Heck, it's alcohol. However, anyone who has kept a bottle of red wine for roughly three months too long can tell you that some booze does go bad.

Let's dig into what rum is and find out if this spicy liquor can stand the test of time! 

What is rum?

Rum is, what is known as, a base spirit. Now, when I first read that word I assumed that this meant rum was an evil ghost. Thankfully, that is not the case. A base spirit is any alcoholic beverage designed for the use in mixed drinks. Base spirits include rum, vodka, gin, tequila, and whiskey. 

But that's not all you need to know about this tasty tonic! Rum is made through fermentation, just like all of the other boozes we enjoy imbibing. However, there's something that makes it pretty darn special. Rum is made from cane sugar plants themselves or from molasses.

That's right, the sweetness in the stuff isn't just the mixers, rum is sugar made boozy, and for this it should well and truly be revered. Light-colored rum is usually used in mixed drinks whereas the darker stuff is preferred for sipping. 

Can rum go bad? 

Yeah, of course it can. But here's the slightly more nuanced take. You can keep rum for hundreds and hundreds of years, passing it down throughout your family and rest secure in the knowledge that the stuff will stand the test of time.

But not every member of your family can enjoy a sip and expect the same taste to hit their tongue. In order for the rum to be long-lived, you need to make sure that it is securely sealed. The minute you take off that lid, the time starts ticking down. 


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With wine, some experts say that unless you have an air-tight seal, you should get rid of a week after opening. Rum has a longer shelf-life and if stored properly and well-sealed, it can stay good for decades. Even when it "goes off," it isn't beyond hope, but we will talk more about that as we go on, okay pumpkin? 

How do you store rum?

It would seem that the key to making sure your rum lives on is to make sure that opened or unopened, you're storing it in the right conditions. Ideally, you'll want to keep your rum in a very cool, very dry place. Like a booze cellar of some sort, you know... like we all have.

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But seriously, sure, that cute vintage bar you picked up from Etsy is stunning, but sitting in the living room in direct sunlight, all it's doing is turning your favorite hooch into a ticking time bomb. 

After you open your rum, make sure that you put it away properly. This means removing the pourer and making an airtight seal. In addition to making sure that crud and other bacteria stay away from your bottle, this also helps preserve the flavor of the rum.

Science: alcohol evaporates faster than water, so even if you bungle storage a bit, your rum's taste won't be "bad," but the natural intensity of the booze will diminish, leaving you with a watered down version of the brew you love (and maybe some mouse droppings in it for good measure.) 

Rum, like many other foods and drinks, is best served when fresh, but that doesn't mean the bottle covered in dust under your kitchen sink needs to be pitched. Provided you've been treating that bottle right, and you continue to do so once it's open, you should be all good to get your rum on. 


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. Her work focuses on relationships, pop culture and news. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.