How’s this for a Lenten fast: nothing but beer and water


J. Wilson did exactly that last year, and reflects on what the experience taught him:

About this time last year, I set off down a path that hadn’t been traveled for centuries. I fasted on beer and water for the duration of Lent.

While that sounds like a frat boy stunt, my “Diary of a Part-Time Monk” project was actually rooted in the Catholic Church, though that’s not what brought me to the idea.

A homebrewer and certified beer judge who is passionate about the flavors and culture of craft beer, I am what they call a “beer geek,” and so the monastic origins of the doppelbock style of beer had long intrigued me.

According to legend, the 17th century monks of Neudeck ob der Au outside Munich, Germany, developed the rich-and-malty beer to sustain them during Lenten fasts, the traditional 46-day lead-up to Easter.

Unfiltered, the bold elixir was nicknamed “liquid bread” and is packed with carbohydrates, calories and vitamins.

With poor documentation available on the specifics of their fasts, I decided that the only way to know if the story was true would be to test the beer myself. I joined forces with Eric Sorensen, the head brewer at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in West Des Moines, Iowa, to brew a commercial release of one of my recipes, Illuminator Doppelbock.

would survive on that beer, supplemented only by water, for 46 days of historical research.

With the blessing of my boss at The Adams County Free Press in Southwest Iowa, I consumed four beers a day during the workweek and five beers on the weekends, when I had fewer obligations.

I knew that I could stretch four beers over the course of a day and function well, but I hadn’t planned for the media attention that the investigation spurred. I found myself giving more than five interviews a day to the likes of CNN, BBC, Fox News, the Chicago Tribune, The Catholic Herald and Men’s Health magazine, among others.

My noncloistered style of living as a part-time monk was interrupted by print, radio and television interviews, preventing the introspection I had planned. After a couple of weeks, I found myself needing to fast from the media, my phone, e-mail as well as from food.

In addition to learning that A) other folks found the story as captivating as I did, and B) one actually can live on beer and water for 46 days, I made some profound discoveries on my journey.

One is that the human body is an amazing machine. Aside from cramming it full of junk food, we don’t ask much of it. We take it for granted. It is capable of much more than many of us give it credit for. It can climb mountains, run marathons and, yes, it can function without food for long periods of time.

Read more. And you can follow the full account of his experiment at his blog.


  1. I have a Doppelbock conditioning in my basement now, and a Tripel fermenting, but I didn’t think of it as a Lenten activity.

  2. Alcoholic spirits were generally not allowed during Lent under the traditional fasting discipline (Sundays were an exception in the Western Church).

  3. It does remind me of my first semester at the University of Maryland — as soon as I took my last final I switched to a diet of only peanut butter sandwiches and beer until my parents came to pick me up a few days later. I didn’t eat peanut butter with any enthusiasm for a couple of years after that.

  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Go Terps! Testudo flies! :-)

  5. My sisters are convinced that a beer is equivalent to a liquid pork chop. Given that, one could probably stay pretty healthy during these 6 weeks.

  6. yes indeed! May the Vous and the Grill and the Town Hall live on forever in memory.

  7. This is an interesting experiment. But monks did not “live on beer alone” during Lent when doppelbock was invented.

    The Rule of St. Benedict, which the monks of Neudeck and elsewhere followed says, in Chapter 49, on Lent, “Let [the monk] deny his body some food, some drink, … [etc.]” — not all food. Elsewhere, Benedict prescribes a generous pound of bread per day and two cooked (meatless) dishes plus a dish of raw fruits or vegetables that might be available for the principal meal of the day. So the lenten fast of 17th Century monks would not have eliminated all solid food.

  8. pagansister says:

    Does he drink enough water to keep him from being perpetually drunk for those 46 days?

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