The corks in spirit bottles rarely break, but when they do it’s a catastrophe. Little bits of cork can’t be left floating in your $300 bottle of whiskey for months. The particles will slowly disintegrate over time and will ruin the flavor of the spirit.
So, if a cork breaks in a bottle, what do you do? Here are some tips from my own experience and some industry experts.
- Not going to be holding on to this bottle for awhile? No need to be a hero. “Ignore the problem,” says the team at India’s Paul John Distillery. “Don’t try to remove the cork particles but let them pour out while pouring a drink, and remove the fragments with a teaspoon before serving.” This is especially good advice if it’s a wine bottle: If I lose a piece of cork in this case, I just use a cheap bottletop filter to strain out the cork bits while pouring the wine directly into glasses.
- That said, most of you will want to remove the sucker, and we can’t blame you. If the cork or piece of cork is large and intact, you can try removing it with a cork retriever. This inexpensive item has three prongs that are lowered through the neck of the bottle and, once aligned, you just pull the whole cork out.
- If your cork is in pieces – which is likely – decanting through cheesecloth is the best idea. “Place a piece of cheesecloth over the opening of the bottle and secure with a rubber band. Pour the liquid through it and into a decanter and you’re done. If you want to serve it in the original bottle then rinse and remove all traces of cork and simply pour liquid back in,” says Tommy Tardie, owner of New York’s Flatiron Room and Fine & Rare. If you don’t want to or can’t use the original bottle, be sure to use a glass vessel for long-term storage, not plastic.
- No cheesecloth? The jury’s out on whether a coffee filter is an acceptable substitute. There’s no hard evidence, but pouring a delicate spirit through bleached paper could impact the flavor – and it could filter out some particles you actually want in your spirit. Cheesecloth is cheap, at least.
- Another option comes from Ryan Chetiyawardana, who teaches the online MasterClass on Mixology. He says, “If you totally break the cork, and it can’t be fished out, take a plastic bag twist it into a point, and carefully feed it into the neck using a chopstick. Keep the opening towards the aperture, but leave the top protruding. Using a straw (metal or biodegradable, of course) blow air into the bottle until the bag inflates, and sandwiches the cork against the inside wall of the bottle. Then carefully pull the bag out and it will wrap the cork, condense it, and allow you to pull the mass through the neck and out with the bag.”
- Don’t forget you’ll need a new stopper if you put the spirit back in the old bottle. Jane Danger, Pernod Ricard Resident Mixologist, says she keeps old closures on hand (as do I – I have dozens in all kinds of sizes), or you can buy rubber aftermarket stoppers online.