Gear Patrol visited 12 whiskey distilleries (including Buffalo Trace, Maker's Mark, and Jim Beam) to find out how bourbon is made.
Cool. Some of that I knew, and some I didn't. My favorite detail is how the placement of the barrel in the aging room can affect the flavor of the bourbon within. Just like cheese. (via digg)
Because of the tea-bag effect, after a point, spirits don't necessarily get better the longer they age. Bottled liquors don't age positively at all which doesn't have anything to do with tea bags.
What distinguishes these two approaches is what Pickerell refers to as "the tea-bag effect": The first time a tea bag (or barrel) is used, there's more flavor to draw out. Resting in brand-new barrels, bourbon needs less time to extract what Pickerell calls "wood goodies" -- it sucks vanilla and caramel flavors, as well as spice-like notes, out of the wood with ease. Many of those same bourbon barrels, once emptied, make their way to Scotland, where they are used to age Scotch whisky. At this point, most of the "wood goodies" have been depleted, so scotch often needs a longer aging time to suck out the remainders. Evaporation plays a role, too: In the dry climate favored by bourbon distillers, liquid evaporates more quickly, and the product becomes concentrated more quickly.
Also, according to the article, the ideal age range for whisk(e)y is as follows:
Rye whiskey: 9-11 years.
Bourbon: 6-10 years.
Scotch: 20 years.