Every Bottle Has a Story: My Interview with Tiffany Gibson

Early in my own bourbon journey I discovered Marianne Eaves, heard her story, learned about her ground-breaking work in the world of bourbon, and found myself inspired by her passion and attitude toward her craft. Years later, as I’m sitting down interviewing bourbon steward, Tiffany Gibson, Marianne comes up. Tiffany, who owns and operates Bourbon at Tiffany’s, found similar inspiration in Marianne’s story: I was absolutely captivated by her.”

It’s hard not to be captivated by a person of Marianne’s reputation, but to me, this one shared detail— a mutual respect for someone who has continued to revolutionize the industry of whiskey— was more than just a commonality between bourbon buddies; it was affirmation that the bourbon community as a whole is truly special. While many people overlook it in favor of accessing rare bourbons, the real value of this community comes by genuinely connecting with great people you might not have met otherwise.

Tiffany and her wife, Joanna, live in Newberry, and while they are avid Gamecock fans, Joanna’s job as a college basketball coach ties them up during USC’s football and basketball seasons. Because of this, the chances of me ever randomly meeting them, had it not been for bourbon, would have been pretty slim. But, thankfully, whiskey has a way of calling together those who share a passion for it, and I, as a result, am a far better person, friend, and bourbon enthusiast for having met Tiffany.

Being an expert in any field requires education, training, and experience. Tiffany, as a certified bourbon steward, has the credentials to back her innate ability as well as years of determined practice to become an expert in the field of tasting. Considering myself and Paul Miles, our Director of Development, recently received our steward certification as well, we can both personally attest to the level of skill and practice that goes into doing what Tiffany does, and while Bourbon History is my expertise, seeing Tiffany in action inspires me to work on improving my own whiskey palate.

I think that’s one of the best parts of what she’s doing— she’s using something that she is passionate about to inspire others. A fact that makes her a perfect person to partner with.

My Interview with Tiffany Gibson

GC: Can you share a little bit about how your passion for bourbon began?

Tiffany: July 2021, we owned 5 bottles of bourbon, and I did not drink. I might have a moscow mule 5 times a year, and if I had two, that was a wild night for me. My wife is a college basketball coach, so every July she is gone recruiting for at least 2 weeks. My brother had gifted her two of those 5 bottles, as well as the other 3 came as gifts from a friend in Louisville. I decided to watch the, “Neat”, documentary while she was away. I was absolutely sucked in. I love history, and I love researching things. I dove head first into researching different brands, best bottles for beginners, special bottles, and it just kind of took off. I went and bought two bottles for her as a welcome home gift- Russell’s 10 year and 375ml Clyde Mayes. 2 years later, we are pushing 300 bottles. I only have 2 speeds in life- I’m either not interested, or I’m obsessed.

I just love how every bottle has a story, and every person has a story. And that’s what bourbon is to me- sitting around, sippin, enjoying time with others, and sharing life.

GC: It is interesting that you mention,”Neat”. For those reading who may not be familiar, it’s a fantastic bourbon documentary that features Marianne Eaves, the first female master distiller since prohibition. Tiffany, as you know already, that documentary, and Marianne specifically, inspired me to have a deeper appreciation for bourbon. What type of influence did she have on you and your whiskey journey?

Tiffany: I was absolutely captivated by her in the film. Her passion, her knowledge, & her general love for what she was doing. That’s when I went down the research rabbit hole of learning about bourbon as much as I could. I couldn’t wait for that first Castle & Key release to drop because I knew it would be the bourbon from the documentary. Unfortunately I couldn’t get batch 1, but I did get a batch 2.

GC: When you are learning about whiskey and tasting specifically, since that’s the area in which you are a genuine expert, what types of resources did you use?

Tiffany: So, the first two weeks I started drinking whiskey, I absolutely hated it. It all tasted like gasoline, I couldn’t finish it, but I kept pushing through. Then one day, it just opened up and I could taste the sweetness, (thank you, New Riff). I didn’t start with trying to figure out tasting notes, just whether I liked it or not. Then I tried to find other bottles I liked, (Pinhook, Four Roses Small Batch Select, & Wild Turkey Rare Breed were my next loves). The one thing I didn’t know or understand early about bourbon, is how different bourbons tasted. At first I thought, “Oh, I don’t like that”. Now I have a deep understanding of mash bills, yeast strains, maturity, regional differences, and so on. I try to approach each bottle as a unique individual, and appreciate it for what it is. I spent a lot of time just reading and watching Youtube videos. I learned a lot from my Bourbon Thieves buddies as well. Then my wife got me a nosing kit for my birthday last year. Since most of what you taste comes from what you smell, I wanted to learn to differentiate smells. It’s kinda crazy because my sense of smell is my superpower. However, I had no idea what things like, “tobacco, smelled like in general, much less inside of bourbon. So sometimes we will pour a blind flight on a Friday night, (we call them, “Friday Night Flights”. And we will get some paper out and write down our thoughts on nose, palate, finish, proof, and such. You learn so much tasting blind, which is why I send all samples blind.

GC: Speaking of blind samples and the process of tasting, people cannot stop clamoring for how great you are when you do your tastings. How do you approach various types of tasters? For example, how would you approach a person who claimed they aren’t “a bourbon fan”?

Tiffany: Great question. I know how I was at first, so I like to go for something that has flavor, is sweet, and doesn’t bite. One of my go-to’s for that first pour right now is, “Short Barrel Toasted”. It’s 94 proof, very sweet, and has been an absolute favorite. If I’m at my house, I can hand curate as we go because I have so much to choose from. It allows me to change course from my initial plan based on feedback of the taster. Mrs. Hopkins had a great tasting at the house with me back in June, where she was hoping to, “find her profile”. So we started with Short Barrel Toasted, went through 6 different bourbons”, and she was ecstatic at the end to have a list of bourbons she wanted to buy.

GC: There are so many types of whiskey; there’s different brands, proofs, recipes, and ages. I know you like to value all whiskey and find what’s special about each one, but as far as preference, What types of bourbon do you typically lean toward?

Tiffany: This is probably not an answer per say… Lately I have fallen in love with craft brands, specifically grain to glass. There is so much good whiskey on the shelf, and I have plenty to drink, so I have become more stringent in my criteria of what I spend my money on. I haven’t bought much from the big brands lately, (Louisville trip in July produced RR13, EW12, & a special Old Fo Sib). I like to spend my money with brands that are interacting with the public on social media, doing charity barrels for non-profits, and putting out good bourbon & whiskey. I rarely ever drink the same thing two times in a row. It’s a big reason why it takes me so long to kill a bottle because I rotate through so much, and most of my collection is open unless it’s back ups/bunkered discontinued bottles and such. I also have been purchasing a lot of barrel picks that my buddies have done. We are all out there working to build our brands, so supporting each other is a big piece for me.

GC: As we’ve talked about in private conversations, we both have a shared love for women in the industry like Marianne Eaves, Fawn Weaver, and the OG badass bourbon queen, Margie Samuels, but what encouragement would you offer to women who might think that bourbon isn’t for them?

Tiffany: Well first, I also have to shout out Nancy Fraley. She is such a behind the scenes type person, and a lot of her work in whiskey has actually had NDA’s attached to it, but anyone who is a Jos. A. Magnus Cigar fan, should know who she is. I think for women who think, “I don’t like brown water”, my first question is always, “what brought you to that place”? Some of us it’s as simple as: a bad experience; drank too much of it in college. I tell them I didn’t like it either in the beginning. But if they would like to take a journey in liquid form, I would be happy to take them through some things to see if we can change that.

GC: What is your best experience in the world of bourbon? The special moment that made you think, “damn, this is what its all about”

Tiffany: My first distillery tour: Jack Daniels. At the end of the tour, I told my wife, “I want to work at a distillery. I’m definitely going to be a tour guide when I’m retired, but this is where I want to be”. Every time I visit another distillery and take another tour, I just realize how much that I want to be a part of this world. It doesn’t matter how big or small the distillery is to me. It’s just the passion and love that goes into each step of creating bourbon, from the farmer who grows it, the truck driver delivering grains, the master distiller perfecting the recipe, the bottling line, the sales team, and finally us, the consumer! It’s a beautiful process that cannot be rushed, which is why it should be sipped slowly and enjoyed with people.

GC: One thing that impresses me about you is your drive. You work hard and stay dedicated to following your dream– so, what is your dream in regards to bourbon? Where do you see yourself 5-years-out? If everything goes according to plan, what can we all expect from Bourbon at Tiffany’s?

Tiffany: That’s such a loaded question right now. Losing my job during a restructure this past April has really been a blessing in disguise for me. It has allowed me time to step back and ask myself what I want from life, and the answer is simple: be happy. I’m allowing myself a year to see where things go. I have always wanted a restaurant, and thought that would be my retirement plan. I am happy when I can love people with food, (my love language is definitely food and they need to add that one to the book). So when I think about the experience of having locally sourced food, cooked in healthy and delicious ways, while having the best selection and prices of bourbon around- that sounds amazing. Part of me doesn’t want to be tied down to anything right now because I spent so many years traveling in sales, and just working myself to death. The short answer is: let’s get through this next year. The long answer is: Five years from now, maybe we have a brick & mortar and are blending our own bourbons. Or maybe I’m working as a single barrel coordinator for a craft brand. Either way, I’m going to be happy.

I want to thank Tiffany for being so candid and willing to share during this interview. She’s an incredible person, and we are so grateful to have her as a member of GBS. Because of her proven skill regarding tasting, and her immense experience within the bourbon community, we are so happy to announce, that we recently invited her to officially join the Gamecock Bourbon Barrel Curation Team. As a member of this team, Tiffany will lend her whiskey taste-buds, and help us select future private bourbon barrels. Bu sure to give her a big congrats, and go follow her her Instagram page here: https://www.instagram.com/bourbon_at_tiffanys/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *