While cleaning out my mother’s kitchen and pantry cabinets to prepare her home for sale, the liquor cabinet in the bar area was an interesting project. There were bottles in there from probably 20 years ago. My mom has never been much of a drinker, but she always liked to entertain and was a good bartender. She even kept a bartending handbook on the bar counter.
Mom liked to make classic cocktails with interesting ingredients. I found bottles of liqueurs like Crème de Menthe, Cointreau, Triple Sec, and of course Kahlúa. Doesn’t everyone have a bottle of Kahlúa in their bar for that occasional White Russian cocktail? In case you don’t remember, this drink is made with a combination of Kahlúa, vodka, and heavy cream. It is poured over ice and served in an old-fashioned glass. It is akin to a drinkable dessert.
I wasn’t sure if I should toss the spirits I discovered or save them to drink at some point. I wondered if liquor actually goes bad. I decided to ask my local spirit proprietor what was worth keeping and what might not be drinkable any longer.
Here is what I found out about Kahlúa, in particular.
What Is Kahlúa?
I never really thought much about what Kahlúa actually was, other than a coffee-flavored liqueur that I used to make Black and White Russians or Espresso Martinis.
Kahlúa is a spirit made in Mexico with the base of it being rum. The rum is flavored with arabica coffee, sugar, and vanilla. The thing about rum is that it is already fairly high in sugar itself because it is made from sugar cane.
Rum is one of those spirits that actually doesn’t last forever because the sugar can degrade over time. Grain-based spirits, such as scotch, rye, and bourbon, do age better than rum.
How Should You Store Kahlúa And For How Long?
Rum stores well in a cool, dark space, such as a kitchen or bar cabinet. Similarly, Kahlúa should be stored this way to prolong its shelf life. Alternatively, you can store Kahlúa in your refrigerator so that it is cold when you want to make cocktails. However, do not be tempted to store Kahlúa in your freezer. Unlike vodka that doesn’t become solid when stored in the freezer, Kahlúa could actually freeze and the texture can change.
The manufacturer of Kahlúa recommends that you use your stored liqueur within 4 years of its production or bottling date, whether it has been opened or not. An opened bottle of Kahlúa can lose its quality, flavor, and texture over time more quickly. After the bottle has been opened, it is best to use the cap that came with the bottle for a tight seal.
You might be wondering how to find the production date on the bottle. It is noted on the bottom of the back label within the lot number. The 4 numbers after the L indicate the year and then the day of that year the Kahlúa was bottled. For instance, L0270….. would likely be the year 2020 and the day September 27th. This is a little weird to remember, so I like to write the date on the label: 9/27/2020. This is good practice for all spirits and flavored liqueurs.
Does Kahlúa Go Bad?
The simple answer to this question is yes. Remain mindful that this is a sweet, sugary liqueur and there is a chance that mold could be present, especially if it isn’t sealed well after opening. You probably won’t be able to see the mold until you pour some into a glass because the bottle is dark-colored glass.
A good way to tell if Kahlúa has gone bad is to use your senses of smell, taste, and sight. Fill a shot glass with some Kahlúa. Then, look at it for signs of slimy white or green bacterial overgrowth. Smell it for that distinctive coffee aroma. It should smell robust and sweet.
If the Kahlúa smells and looks okay, taste a little for the strong coffee and rum flavors that you expect. If you see mold or it smells and tastes flat or rancid, discards the Kahlúa. If the texture doesn’t have a good mouthfeel that likely means the added sugar has begun to crystalize and it will be off-putting and even a little crunchy.
Also, if the production date is more than 4 years old, you might want to toss it just to be on the safe side, especially if the bottle has been opened for some time.
If you really aren’t sure whether it is bad, see if you can find an airline-size bottle of Kahlúa and use that as a comparison to your bar-size bottle. Just smell and taste both side by side. You will know for sure if the flavors and texture don’t match up.
Wrapping It Up
Many of us have that unused bottle of Kahlúa hidden in the depths of our liquor cabinets. Often, it is just forgotten about until you get a craving for a coffee cocktail or a splash of coffee-flavored liqueur over ice cream.
Before you get down to making cocktails or dessert, check the production date on the back label of the bottle. Then, take a close look at the spirit of bacteria. Smell the Kahlúa and then give it a little taste. It likely won’t be so bad that a little sip will make you ill. That said, I wouldn’t risk drinking a full glass of really old Kahlúa or other sweet liqueurs.
I recommend storing your opened bottle of Kahlúa in plain sight inside your refrigerator so you don’t forget about it. It will probably fit right inside the door. Lastly, enjoy drinking it or using it to enhance dessert or to flavor your after-dinner coffee.