Whisky definitely changes upon opening. For this reason, I often find samples had at a tasting where fresh bottles are opened do not always show the true taste of the whisky for the life of the bottle -- it is necessary to allow the sample to air out quite a bit before you get a true nosing. Many become smoother, many open up their flavours. You probably don't want to leave the bottle open too long as you can oxidize it prematurely but leave your samples open before you drink them.
Some have a one minute rule, leaving the samples open for one minute per year of maturation but with old ones this seems excessive once you are waiting 30-40 minutes or more. They do seem to improve up to that point though.
Others add water instead of airing out. I prefer the airing out method.
The rule of thumb that many subscribe to is this: Assuming that you are regularly visiting the one bottle, then once it gets down to about a third full, you have roughly three to six months to finish the bottle before oxidation really starts to cause harsh and unwanted deterioration.
It is at one-third-full that the ratio of air to whisky in the bottle will start to have a detrimental effect. However, this assumes that you are a regularly visiting the bottle. Given that your bottle of Black Bush is half-full and was opened five years ago, I think it's a safe bet that the whisky will definitely have been affected by oxidation for the worse.
Many people make this mistake when they purchase and open a "special" bottle. Because it's special (i.e. rare or expensive), they only drink it very occasionally, and it can then sit for years on a shelf with air in the bottle. The whisky starts to oxidise and deteriorate, and the special stuff inside suddenly doesn't taste very special anymore!!
If you leave the bottle open or have a bottle with only a little in it, some of the alcohol will evaporate, making it taste milder and less spicy. I also think that phenols are quite volatile, but the more volatile of these wwould have evaopourated while in the barrel or during vatting.
However, different bottles taste slightly different. You might have tasted a whisky bottled in a different year even. It will also taste different depending on what you have eaten before or if you have had something else to drink prior to tasting...
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