Easy to Bond Over a Good Beer

PhD candidate at the European Joint Doctorate Food Science from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Agriculture in Kraków, chemist Marcus Pagenstecher tells us about his activities and involvement with the Kraków School of Brewing, his favourite beer and bars and his overall experience in Poland.

Where do you find yourself in the European Joint Doctorate track?

I’m in the last half year of my Ph.D., which means my focus is on finishing all my small projects and, eventually, writing my thesis.

Could you describe your general experience in Kraków and at the University of Agriculture?

My general experience in Kraków has been very enjoyable. The city center is a great place to live in, and I met many amazing people, both Polish and expats. Working at the University of Agriculture was a notable change of my previous academic experiences. It always takes some time to get used to a change in work environment, especially when you’re doing lab work. That starts from having to ask for the location of every small piece of equipment needed, but also includes adjusting to a general work schedule.

St. Mary’s Basilica on Kraków’s Main Market Square

What were you working on during your stay at the University of Agriculture in Kraków?

My work here focused on the impact that alternative raw materials for brewing have on the metal composition during the brewing process. I worked closely with both my EJD colleague Jonas whose general topic is alternative raw materials for brewing, and a Master’s student from Copenhagen, who came to Kraków with me to explore the suitability of Tritordeum, a new hybrid grain, for malting and brewing.

What was your favourite thing about Kraków?

Klub Buda, a student bar with a long tradition, great people, and tasty beer.

Klub Buda

Could you tell us about your collaboration and involvement with the Kraków School of Brewing?

The KSB team is amazing! They assisted me both at work and when it came to finding my way around the city in our free time. I hope I was able to give some of that back. We also spent some trips together, most notably the one to the Polish Hops harvest festival (Chmielobranie), where I met a lot of members of the Polish craft beet community.

KSB Team at Chmielobranie 2019

What do you think about Polish beer?

I quite enjoyed the Polish beers, although it’s not easy to keep track with the sheer amount of different beers I tried. With all these experimental types it is often a bit hit and miss, regardless of where you are. Maybe it’s because of my German origin, but I always like to come back to the simple styles during the evening. So I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Okocim Lagers during my stay.

What was your favourite kind of beer in Poland?

In terms of big brand beer, I would say Okocim Chmielowy Kwartet. Really nice, drinkable Lager the way I like it. Regarding smaller breweries it’s a bit more difficult, because there are so many different ones. One I enjoyed in particular was Łańcut Browar’s Uncle Hefe.

Did you brew anything during your time in Poland?

Yes, I brewed twice at the university, and once during my free time. I especially enjoyed the one time when me and my EJD colleague Jonas went to pick wild hops in the hills around Krakow and used it to brew a beer for the Faculty’s 45th anniversary. I also got the chance to disseminate my knowledge during a day of practical brewing courses with the international Master’s students. In fact, I have yet to taste the final dark Wheat beer that we brewed that day. I hope it turned out good.

A NEW HOP, Wolski Pale Ale

Did you publish anything while you were in Kraków?

No, but we are currently working on a manuscript based on the work we did at the University of Agriculture. We hope to get it ready for publishing in the beginning of next year.

What are your plans for the near future? Are you thinking of a career in the brewing and malting industry?

That’s an excellent questions. For now, my focus is on successfully finishing the Ph.D. project before worrying much about what comes afterwards. But I can absolutely see myself staying in the field. The brewing and malting industry has always struck me as a familiar community where everybody knows each other. I guess it’s just easy to bond over a good beer.

What specific skills did you learned (acquired) while you were in Kraków at the URK?

I think I mostly improved my brewing skills. Coming into the project as a chemist, I have a pronounced background in lab work and analysis, which I could apply in my work here at URK. But my project had not really required me to do much brewing so far, so I was happy for the various opportunities that I got.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to Krakow for a study exchange? 

Do it! I don’t think I’ve met any foreign exchange student in my six months here that regretted coming here. While I can’t really speak for lectures, working in the lab might require some creativity, but will ultimately benefit your independence. Language is definitely and issue because a lot of Polish students (often unrightfully so) are self-conscious about their English. But even if you are unlucky on that end, there is a big English speaking community in the city, including many locals. And in everyday life, you will always be able to get around with a smile, gestures, and the occasional nicety you’ve picked up in Polish.

What were/are some of the challenges so far in your PhD?

I think the biggest challenge has been fitting my research around all the travelling. I feel like I have spent almost a third of my Ph.D. travelling, and that requires a lot of time management. The two Master’s students I had the pleasure of co-supervising have been a big help, as well.