Does Tonic Water Expire or Go Bad?

by Charlie
Tonic water

It is never a bad time for a gin and tonic. Or maybe you’d like to forgo the gin, and a tall glass of ice-cold tonic water with lime is what’s calling your name.

Tonic water, with its pleasant bubbliness and bitter bite, has been a staple of bars and restaurants for a long time. Tonic water is enjoyed as a mixer in dozens of drinks, and even enjoyed on its own. 

Tonic water is a classic refreshment for any occasion. That is unless your tonic water is expired.

Does tonic water expire? Yes, tonic water expires but it still has a really long shelf life. A little over a year after its listed expiration date for unopened tonic water, and about a week for opened tonic water. Tonic water, when stored properly and unopened, can last an incredibly long time, even years!

What is Tonic Water?

Tonic water isn’t just carbonated H20. It actually has quite heroic origins!

The uniquely bitter taste of tonic water comes from an ingredient called quinine. Quinine, derived from the bark of the Chichona Tree, first came into popularity as a cure for malaria.

That’s right! Gin’s favorite companion originally was used as a cure for one of history’s most nefarious diseases!

Quinine was also used as an effective fever reducer.

These days, the amount of quinine in tonic water is much lower than when it was used to fight off malaria. Some varieties of tonic water also incorporate sweeteners to help combat the bitterness of the quinine. 

Tonic water is not the same as sparkling water or seltzer water. Sparkling water is simply regular water that is carbonated. Seltzer water is carbonated water with minerals added. Only tonic water contains quinine. 

Can Unopened Tonic Water Expire?

Unopened tonic water can eventually expire, but it takes a very long time. Most tonic waters will have an expiration date printed on them, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the tonic will be undrinkable or dangerous to ingest after that date.

Expiration dates printed on food and drinks aren’t required. The only foods that are federally required to have an expiration date are baby formula and baby food, and some states have regulations forcing meat, eggs, and dairy to have expiration dates as well.

Other than these exceptions, expiration dates are dates chosen by the manufacturer. A manufacturer will choose an expiration date so that the consumers enjoy their product when it’s at its very best. 

This means some expired foods won’t be dangerous, but they can taste lackluster compared to if they had been consumed before their expiration date. 

In the case of tonic water, you can enjoy it 6 months to 1 year after the listed expiration date and it will still be at its peak enjoyability. 

After this time, the tonic water is probably still safe to drink, but it can begin to lose its carbonation, making it much less useful as a cocktail mixer or stand-alone beverage.

If your unopened tonic water has taken on a yellow tinge, it has gone bad. Discard it.

You should also discard any tonic water that has a rusted or bloated container. Rust means the container has been compromised, while a bloated or swollen container means that bacteria has gotten into the tonic water and it has begun to spoil.

As always, if your tonic looks of smells iffy, pour it out. It isn’t worth the risk!

Can Opened Tonic Water Expire?

Unlike unopened tonic water, opened tonic has a limited shelf life. After a week, even if refrigerated, opened tonic water should be discarded. 

One of the hallmarks of tonic water is its carbonation. Once tonic water is opened, it will slowly begin to lose this carbonation until it is completely flat.

To keep your tonic water fresh, always tightly seal it after opening and keep it somewhere refrigerated. Don’t freeze tonic water! Once it has frozen solid, it will have lost all carbonation.

After a week, most opened tonic waters will be flat and therefore won’t be very useful as mixers or even as stand-alone drinks.

Another consideration for opened tonic waters is contamination. If you drink directly out of the tonic water bottle, you are introducing bacteria to the tonic that can cause it to spoil much faster.

Just like with unopened tonic water, keep a watchful eye out for any discoloration or strange smells!

How to Keep Tonic Water From Expiring?

Tonic water is a simple beverage, traditionally only containing water and quinine. As such, it doesn’t require much to stay fresh for a long time.

The number one thing to consider when trying to keep your tonic water fresh is proper storage. 

Proper Storage for Unopened Tonic Water

For unopened tonic water, it can be stored in the pantry at room temperature with no problems. In fact, unopened tonic water will keep just as long at room temperature as it would be refrigerated.

Although, it is convenient to have your tonic water chilled already when you’re craving a tonic water cocktail.

When storing your unopened tonic water at room temperature, making sure to keep it somewhere dark and dry that is resistant to temperature fluctuations. A closed pantry or basement are great options. 

Proper Storage for Open Tonic Water

For opened tonic water, it must be stored in the refrigerator. Opened tonic water can last about a week when refrigerated, but when left out at room temperature will need to be discarded within a day.

Make sure to tightly seal your tonic water before refrigerating. The better the seal, the longer the carbonation will remain. 

When your tonic has lost its fizz, go ahead and pour it out. 

Final Thoughts

Tonic water is pretty incredible! Starting out as a medicinal drink, tonic water has now ended up behind bars all across the world.

Tonic water and its main ingredient, quinine, have a pretty long shelf life.

Just keep an eye out for any discoloration, strange smells, or abnormalities on the bottle of your tonic water and you should be good to go to make a fabulous libation even if the expiration date has come and gone.

You may also like