Recent Alumni Spotlight: Irena Bierzynski
September 17, 2012
After graduating in the spring of 2011 with a degree in chemistry, Irena Bierzynski was hired as a brewer at Portland’s Lompoc Brewing. She’s originally from Detroit, Michigan, but has spent time living in China and Spain as well. When she’s not at work, she enjoys going to bars and restaurants in Southeast Portland and snowboarding.
3CE: Tell us about how you connected with Lompoc and the brewing industry. How did your time at Lewis & Clark prepare you for this opportunity?
Irena Bierzynski: At Lewis & Clark, my proximity to the Portland culture was responsible for introducing me to craft brewing, since there are so many craft breweries in the city and such an appreciation for beer. Also, the craft breweries here have an obvious presence at Portland events, such as Timbers games and street fairs, so you can’t miss them. Once I decided that I was interested in pursuing brewing straight out of college, I went to 3CE and asked if they could help me meet industry professionals. As it turned out, the counselors there already had ties to brewers at Bridgeport and Lompoc, two well-known breweries in the area. The men I contacted there were happy to meet with me - happy to help a Lewis & Clark student. Through my conversations with them, I was able to set up volunteer opportunities in the brewery while I was still in school.
3CE: What does a typical work day look like for you?
IB: On a typical work day, I may do any number of jobs, including brewing and cellar work. Everyone in the brewery is trained to do any job, so that we can alternate. If I’m brewing, I come in in the morning and immediately start mashing in (mixing hot water and grain, the first step in brewing). Then, I’ll spend all day brewing that batch of beer, and be the last one out of the brewery. I may also harvest yeast, stock the bar, check specific gravities, or do anything else that comes up. If I’m cellaring, I’ll clean tanks, transfer beer from the fermenter to the conditioning tank, and fill kegs. Some days I’ll oversee packaging an order to send to the distributor, or help with bottling. Other days, I may help with making barrel aged beer, or correspond with beer bloggers. I may also promote the beer, by attending Lompoc events, tastings, or meet the brewer events.
3CE: What skills or competencies did you emphasize during the application process that resonated with the folks at Lompoc?
IB: During the application process, I emphasized my willingness to work hard, commitment to brewing, enthusiasm for craft beer, and my accountability. Also, my employers were impressed by my knowledge of chemistry, which provides a good base for understanding the science of brewing.
3CE: What did you do your freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year to prepare yourself for a career in the brewing industry?
IB: My freshman and sophomore years, I just watched the world around me and tried to find vocations I might like to pursue. The summers after my sophomore and junior years, I did research with the John S. Rogers Science Program to give chemistry research a try and get more involved in my field. My junior year, I started attending all the beer events in Portland I could, like the Oregon Brewers’ Festival. During my senior year, I really started taking concrete steps toward entering the brewing industry. I took the Senior Survival Seminar offered by 3CE in January, and I started meeting with industry professionals to get to know them and understand their jobs.
3CE: What has surprised you most about life after college?
IB: What surprised me most about life after college was how different it is to do the same job year-round, instead of having life broken up into semesters. I don’t get a new schedule every four months anymore!
3CE: What advice would you give graduating seniors getting ready to enter the workforce?
IB: I tell graduating seniors to take 3CE’s Senior Survival Seminar. It forces you to sit down and work on preparing yourself for the job search. It allows you to collaborate with twenty of your peers who are in the same situation as you. It’s a great way to start working toward being employed after college, even if you’re not sure what job you want to pursue or don’t plan to start a career immediately after graduation. 3CE has lots of resources available, if you seek them out. Make an appointment with a counselor - they’ll help you figure out the next step in whatever process you’d like to start with them.
Want to see Irena in action? There are still spots left for the Connoisseur Tour on the Brewvaa Bus on October 7th! Stop at notable beer spots in Portland, all handpicked by Irena. Sign up and learn more here.