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Monday, October 17, 2011

Women in Oregon Beer Expanded: Irena Bierzynski

Over the summer, a lot of us beer geek types saw For the Love of Beer, a movie highlighting some of Oregon's most awesome women in beer. Sarah Pederson (Saraveza) and Tonya Cornett (Bend Brewing) kind of dominated the film, although we heard from Lisa Morrison (author), Veronica Vega (Deschutes Brewing) and a few others along the way.

The field of beer and brewing, long dominated by men, is opening up to women. Nonetheless, women are still a vast minority in the industry. Of something like 50,000 craft beer employees in the United States, fewer than 600 currently belong to the Pink Boots Society, an organization of women in the industry. The fact that things are changing is good, however slow.

Another potential member of the Pink Boots Society is Irena Bierzynski, the latest addition to the group of brewers at Lompoc Brewing. Irena joined Lompoc after graduating from Lewis and Clark last spring and is immersed in learning the trade. She came to brewing in an roundabout way.

On the brewery floor...a great place to be.

"My interest in beer and brewing perked when I was 18 and on a vineyard tour," Irena said. "I had plans to become a chemist. Then and there I realized there was chemistry involved in wine making. That evolved to beer and brewing when I came to Portland to attend Lewis and Clark for obvious reasons."

Bierzynski (yeah, that's her real name) hails from Detroit. She spent her high school years in Shanghai. Her dad, an engineer who works for General Motors, was sent to China to help set up auto plants. The international school she attended had kids from around the world. It was a unique experience, she says.

Coming to Portland to attend Lewis and Clark, Irena became interested in the beer festival culture that has taken off in recent years. That led her to an increased interest in brewing. But not homebrewing.

"I had decided I wanted to brew professionally before I started homebrewing. I didn't have any formal brewing education, but I understood the chemistry of brewing thanks to my science background. It helps a lot."

Most of what Irena is doing at Lompoc is pretty basic. She's mastering the work of transferring and racking beer into kegs, cleaning tanks, working on the bottling line, taking gravities and keeping the Fifth Quadrant bar stocked. Her responsibilities will grow with time.

A batch of Bierz Brown in the tank.
"Irena volunteered to help on the bottling line last spring," said, Bryan Keilty, Lompoc Production Manager. "Based on that experience, we thought she would be an asset to the company and we asked her to join the group. She's smart, a hard worker and driven to succeed. She'll get more in-depth training on brewing as we move along."

Part of the brewing training involved coming up with a recipe for the recently released Bierz Brown. Irena developed the recipe with input from other brewers at Lompoc.

"Bierz Brown is my first," Irena said, "I think it's been fairly well-received. What's next? I'm not sure. I like the idea of making beers for particular times of year. The next beer could be a winter beer. I actually want to go light if I do a winter beer. Everybody makes dark beers in the winter. I wouldn't make a super light beer, just not a dark beer like everyone else."

Like all brewers, Irena has an ultimate goal that is similar to that of most brewers.

"I think most brewers ultimately want to run their own brewery or brewpub. That could happen someday. It's down the road. What I’m doing now is great and I'm enjoying it. Lompoc has a great team. If you ever need help with something, you get it.I'm learning so much."

Sometimes, you just need to kick back and have a beer.

What does the fledgling brewer do for fun? When she isn't enjoying one of the countless festivals around town, Irena is a hardcore hockey fan who loves the Red Wings and Winterhawks. She also enjoys live music in small venues.

"As a hockey fan, I'm a little nuts," she said. "I'm from Detroit. What do you expect? I also like concerts at the Aladdin and Roseland…small places, new music, electronic music. Arena shows don't excite me."

If you want to meet Irena, plan to attend a Lompoc release party at the Sidebar. They are always low key and friendly. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

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