Cheers to beers! We raise our mugs to all the professional drinkers out there. If you drink like it’s your job, then maybe it should be. Meet Daniel Imdieke, Manager of Beer Education and MillerCoors, Master Cicerone. One of just an elite 13 Master Cicerones in the world, Imdieke is passionate about sharing his love for all things beer. What’s a Master Cicerone you say? We’re glad you asked. Along with sharing beer education and inspiration at MillerCoors, he’s an expert when it comes to brewing ingredients, brewery processes, tasting classes and food pairings. Read on and see if you have what it tastes, er…takes to pass the challenging Cicerone exam.
Can you tell us a little about your journey on the path to becoming a Master Cicerone?
I started bartending out of college at a place called the Yard House that had 200 taps, and that’s where my beer journey began. I fell in love with the range of flavors and complexity of beer and going to law school seemed like a distant priority. I spent nine years there eventually leading the development of the beer education and bar training program for all of the restaurants and never left the beer industry. I didn’t want to do anything else.
I took the first two levels of Cicerone exams but remember reading about the Master level and wondered if it was something I could ever do. That question just stuck with me. I thought if I was going to be in beer I might as well try to take it all the way. At the urging of some family members, I ended up leaving my job to start studying, and that’s when I got acquainted with the beer education team at MillerCoors and applied for an opening.
There were two other folks on the team studying for the Master exam at the time- Jason Pratt who became Master Cicerone #11 and Brian Reed who is awaiting his results from this year’s exam. Going through the process together and being around them is really what made it possible for me.
Aside from tasting a lot of beer, how did you prepare for the Cicerone test?
It’s a bit embarrassing to talk about because it was a lifestyle and an obsession. Every bit of my free time had something to do with beer. Most people would think it was crazy, but I was hooked. I initially took six months off of work and read 30 books and countless articles on beer. I took classes on how to build a draft beer system. I made over 1000 flashcards for all of the different topics and studied 4-5 hours a day.
It’s kind of a lonely process. You have to make time no matter what. I remember waking up at 5:30 AM every morning on vacation in Hawaii so that I could study for 2-3 hours before everyone got up and going. I would rock my daughter to sleep at night and sing her songs while going through style numbers and examples in my head. Those are the kinds of things you have to enjoy doing, or it’s tough to have a chance, at least for me. My family was very supportive, but I’m sure my wife’s glad it’s over!
I took the test once and did some things well but didn’t pass. Getting the job in beer education with MillerCoors really put me over the top the next time because I got to apply a lot of what I was studying on a daily basis. The exam is two full days with 16 essays, 12 oral exams with industry experts, and eight blind tasting panels, so actual hands-on experience in each subject is a must. The test is hard, as it should be, and no matter how you’ve prepared it pushes you to the limit. It’s tough to feel good at the end of it other than the fact you survived it! All in all, I spent 2 ½ years of dedicated studying beyond the previous years I spent in the industry before I passed.
What does a typical workday look like for you? Does it ever feel too early in the day to start tasting beer?
Ha! It’s always a good time for a beer! I really feel like I have a dream job and have had several pinch-me beer geek moments along the way. My day always varies- working with key customers on beer and food pairing programs, doing beer style tastings for our sales and marketing teams, speaking to consumers at a beer dinner, it’s always different. Essentially I get to create classes and programs for different aspects of beer and then teach people how to use that info to create passion about beer and sell more of it. We’re one of the few breweries to have a team like this. And it says something about MillerCoors that they have invested heavily in making people excited about beer as a whole and not just our brands.
Do you have any tips for budding connoisseurs who are learning to pair beer and food? Are there basic rules?
Beer is such a great partner with food and doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. The first part of a great pairing is about finding harmony and when you think about what beer is made from it’s easy to create that. You’ve got cereal grains that are toasted or roasted that pair well with everything from toasted bread, to pizza crust, anything grainy. The toasted and roasted flavors created in malt mirror those found in cooked food like grilled or seared meat. Then you have hops that have amazing variation and contain many of the same aromatic oils as everyday cooking spices. Plus beer can be brewed with actual food like fruit, spices, coffee, chocolate, pumpkins, etc.
So for basic rules I would find some of those easy complements based on the dominant flavors in the beer and dish. You can think about things that go well together like citrus and seafood and let a beer with citrusy hops or citrus fruit added play that role. Then match more delicate food with less intense beers and richer, more flavorful beers with more intense beers so one doesn’t overwhelm the other. As you go further some contrasting flavors can keep it interesting but that’s a good place to start. Beer’s carbonation also cleanses your palate in a way that other beverages like most wines can’t. It’s really tough to go too wrong if you start there!
We here a lot about IPAs, craft beers, Lagers, Stouts, Pilsners, etc. What is the next big beer trend?
The real trend is that people keep looking for the next trend, that next something new. There is such a diversity of ingredients and methods you can use to create twists on traditional styles so people seem to always be looking for that little hook or creative difference that riffs on something they know. Beer can be complex and intense but at its core it’s known as a refreshing, social beverage. We’re coming full circle into people looking for drinkable styles like Pilsners and Pale Ales. Some sour beers like Gose fit into this category too. I think the thirst for refreshing styles will continue, (see what I did there? :)) with sour beers being a category that will continue to grow as people become accustomed to sourness like they did bitterness with IPA’s.
Do you have any advice for home brewers on how they can improve the taste of their beer?
You know it’s easy to give advice without anyone tasting the beer that I’ve brewed! I came to home brewing later in my journey and the first lesson I learned was that a healthy fermentation is #1. People spend a lot of effort on the perfect recipe and expensive equipment leading up to fermentation but then don’t keep their yeast happy by pitching enough or controlling the temperature. You can have the best recipe and most efficient brew house in the world but if your yeast isn’t happy, none of what you intended will shine through.
If you were stranded on a desert island with only one beer to drink for the rest of your life, what kind would it be and why?
Well, you want something drinkable on a desert island but also interesting enough to get you through being stranded so I’d probably take something like Pilsner Urquell which was the first pilsner ever brewed. It’s sessionable but unbelievably complex for a 4.4% ABV beer and goes with everything. If I could take two I’d probably add a Double IPA into the mix for the really tough days!