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Chico State

Distinguished Alumna and Sierra Nevada Brewery Quality Manager Kimberly Bacigalupo

Distinguished Alumna Kimberly Bacigalupo

Kimberly Bacigalupo (Chemistry, ’08) knows a good opportunity when she sees one.

In March of 2007, during her senior year at Chico State, she accepted an internship in the research and development lab at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., a temporary position set up through the chemistry program on campus. Though she wasn’t aware of it at the time, Bacigalupo had just landed her eventual dream job.

“I was a super nerd, a chemistry kid. I had never even tasted alcohol before!” she said. “And I had no idea how involved chemistry was in so many of the things we see on store shelves, like beer.”

She ended up staying in the brewery lab for six years, eventually moving to the quality department as supervisor and then manager, a position she still holds today.

It is Bacigalupo’s love of science and chemistry that drives her. Though not a big beer drinker, she is fascinated by the role chemistry plays in brewing and how it can be used to make a better product. As manager she spends most of her time overseeing day-to-day operations, but when she first started in the lab she would analyze beer down to the molecular level—aroma and flavor molecules, and ions like calcium, sodium, and zinc.

Now Bacigalupo helms food safety for all new beers and beverages at the brewery, and she is currently supporting the program behind a new co-packaging facility under construction.

“As somebody who’s leading such a big change for people, it’s important for me to embrace it,” she said. “Change helps us grow—it makes room for something new and exciting.”

Bacigalupo is also deeply involved in the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC), a professional organization with a worldwide reach that takes a science-based approach to fostering excellence in the brewing industry—she recently retired as president. During her tenure, Bacigalupo was the first woman to be invited to give the keynote address at the annual Brewing Convention of Japan in November 2022, something she considers a highlight of her career.

“The brewing industry there is generally run by men, so this was a huge step forward. I hope that’s a sign that times are changing,” she said.

With a nudge from the ASBC and the support of Sierra Nevada, Bacigalupo earned a master’s degree in brewing science through a distance-learning program at the University of Nottingham in 2016. Bacigalupo is also a professional beer judge, serving on panels at the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival through the Brewers Association.

Do you have any advice for students in the chemistry program at Chico State?

The biggest contributor to my success was taking opportunities when they were presented, just to see what I liked. There are so many directions you can go in, so I think it’s really important to explore all of the industries. The big thing is not to say “No” right away—think about it. Try it! Yes, you may not like it, but you may get lucky and find a job you love and stay there for a long time like me.

What is your experience as a woman in the field of brewing chemistry?

I used to joke that I took two career fields—science and brewing—that are particularly difficult for women, and I smashed them together to make it as hard as possible for myself. Especially back in 2008, when I got started. For the longest time, I would serve as a judge and be the only woman at the table. We have made some progress since then. Last October, I was at a table where three of us were women. I remember thinking, “Whoa, I don’t know if this has ever happened!” And this is the first year we know of in the history of the ASBC where the entire presidential committee is led by women.

What kept you going during those early years?

My mom used to say that I always wanted to be different. I was obstinate as a child, and as an adult I still like a challenge.

One aspect of being a woman that’s helpful is that’s how I got into the judging circles so quickly. There is usually a long waiting list but they needed more women to balance it so I jumped to the top. Men and women have scientifically different palates, so having that balance when judging is really important.

What does it mean to be recognized by Chico State as a Distinguished Alumni?

I was really surprised! I told my partner that I must be doing something right. Everyone wants to find a job that they love and to be successful after they graduate, and for that I feel lucky. I just want to know that what I’m doing makes a difference. That’s what makes me happy.