Stuart Cristol-Deman tasting bourbon at Fet’s Whiskey Kitchen in Vancouver in August 2019. (Liza Cristol-Deman)
Stuart Cristol-Deman tasting bourbon at Fet’s Whiskey Kitchen in Vancouver in August 2019. (Liza Cristol-Deman)

Which whiskey is best for you? The ‘bourbon steward’ knows.

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Stuart Cristol-Deman is well aware of the commonly held belief that when it comes to drinking alcohol, Jews are not big tipplers compared with some others. He used to fall into that category himself.

“I didn’t even drink in college like everyone else,” he said.

So perhaps he’s a funny candidate to become a certified bourbon steward. And even with that, he still doesn’t drink much.

He traces it back to a mind-blowing taste of the spirit, when he sipped from a glass of Jameson Irish Whisky — to this day he doesn’t know which type — while attending a culinary conference in Chicago. Before that, he had only tasted the occasional whiskey sour.

“The flavor was so rich, with brown sugar and caramel and vanilla, these rich flavors like from baking,” he said. “And that sent on me on a journey.”

Scotch and bourbon both fall into the greater whiskey category. Scotch comes from Scotland, bourbon from the U.S., often Kentucky.

The certification is offered by the Kentucky-based Stave & Thief Society’s Moonshine University, which offers an on-site executive program and a less intensive online course, which is the one he chose.

“The online course is just a book and then a test online and you also have to create a flight of three different whiskeys, and you compare and contrast them, writing tasting notes for all of them,” he said. He used three California bourbons.

The 50-year-old resident of Moss Beach in San Mateo County says he is one of a handful of bourbon stewards in the Bay Area.

“There are about 1,200 certified bourbon stewards now total, which is a lot more than a couple years ago,” he said. The certification he got is the only one recognized by the Kentucky Bourbon Association.

The flavor was so rich, with brown sugar and caramel and vanilla…. And that sent on me on a journey.

Even though he’s certified, there’s still much more to learn.

When he started out, “Lowland and island scotches were like a bonfire in my mouth,” he said, noting that at first he preferred Irish whisky because it was lighter in weight and often a bit sweet. But studying for the course opened up a whole world of bourbons.

Cristol-Deman offers the occasional bourbon tasting class and home-based cooking classes — bagel-making is one of his more popular topics. He is also the cheese buyer for New Leaf Market.

He also considers himself somewhat of an amateur Jewish food historian, a natural combination of his interests.

“While I grew up in an Ashkenazi household, my aunt married a Yemenite and Iraqi Jew from Tel Aviv,” he said, and he appreciated having a Sephardic connection in the family. “Sephardic food is so much better, and they have such a richer history as well,” he said.

He grew up in Atlanta in a kosher home and attended Jewish day school for part of his education. He met his wife, Liza, when both were studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and they moved to the Bay Area so she could attend law school at Stanford. They’ve been on the Central Coast now for 21 years and are founding members of the Coastside Jewish Community.

Cristol-Deman spent over a decade as the buyer and manager of Toque Blanche, an upscale kitchen store in Half Moon Bay. When it closed in 2017, he began offering classes on his website before he got his job at New Leaf. Now he offers classes when he can find the time.

While he was always more of a cook than a baker, his quest to make a good bagel came from the absence of anything passable on the coast, he said.

“I did a bunch of research, read six or seven recipes, and started tinkering around and combining different things, with the major thing being adding more salt,” he said. That’s the thing missing from most bagel recipes, he said, and he should know: He’s a “supertaster,” or someone who has an unusually sensitive palate.

While at first he was just experimenting for himself and his family, once he had perfected his recipe, Cristol-Deman added bagels to his class list. He believes the more quality bagels there are in the Bay, the better. “There’s room enough for all of us,” he said.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."