Taking up the beer fast for Lent

The beer fast does not mean giving up beer.  It means giving up everything except beer.  While this may sound Lutheran, it was actually the practice of the monks of Neudeck, who developed Doppelbock for this very purpose.  Last year the beer connoisseur J. Wilson took on this Lenten discipline.  From his account of the 46 days:

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.

I 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. . . .

At the beginning of my fast, I felt hunger for the first two days. My body then switched gears, replaced hunger with focus, and I found myself operating in a tunnel of clarity unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

While hunger subsided quickly, my sense of smell provided persistent temptation for more than a week. But the willpower to carry out my objective brought peace to the “Oh man that cheeseburger smells good” thoughts. Soon, I could see, smell or discuss anything food-related without trouble.

Often, I cooked dinner for my boys, a task that became as simple and trouble-free as tying my shoes.

My fast also underscored for me that there is a difference between wants and needs. I wanted a cheeseburger, but I didn’t need one. I also didn’t need a bag of chips or a midday doughnut. I needed nourishment, and my doppelbock, while lacking the protein that might have provided enough backbone for an even longer fast had I sought one, was enough to keep me strong and alert, despite my caloric deficit.

Though I lost 25.5 pounds, I gained so much more. The benefits of self-discipline can’t be overstated in today’s world of instant gratification. The fast provided a long-overdue tune-up and detox, and I’ve never felt so rejuvenated, physically or mentally.

The experience proved that the origin story of monks fasting on doppelbock was not only possible, but probable. It left me with the realization that the monks must have been keenly aware of their own humanity and imperfections. In order to refocus on God, they engaged this annual practice not only to endure sacrifice, but to stress and rediscover their own shortcomings in an effort to continually refine themselves.

via My Faith: What I learned from my 46-day beer-only fast – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • larry

    Interesting insights especially the “tunnel like clarity” and the “wants Vs. needs” aspects.

  • larry

    Interesting insights especially the “tunnel like clarity” and the “wants Vs. needs” aspects.

  • Kirk

    Should have thought of this while I was at PHC.

  • Kirk

    Should have thought of this while I was at PHC.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I think I’d forego the “beer fast” and do the “cheeseburger fast” instead. Not sure my wife would appreciate the tunnel-vision like “clarity” when it came to getting things done around the house, though.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I think I’d forego the “beer fast” and do the “cheeseburger fast” instead. Not sure my wife would appreciate the tunnel-vision like “clarity” when it came to getting things done around the house, though.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    I might be open to lobster bisque fast.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    I might be open to lobster bisque fast.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Mmm. Doppelbock. I had a six-pack of Paulaner’s Salvator doppelbock a few weeks ago, and it is a fantastic beer, so very different from the aggressive hoppiness of native Northwest beers.

    The beer in the article was named “Illuminator Doppelbock”, which is a head-nod to tradition. You can read more here, but basically, Paulaner’s Salvator was the first commercial doppelbock sold, I believe. Lots of imitators soon came out, also calling themselves “Salvator” (Latin for “savior”), until trademark law started being enforced.

    After that, most doppelbocks chose a name that ends in “ator”, as an homage or reference. So you have Spaten Optimator, Ayinger Celebrator, and, inevitably, even names like Devastator.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Mmm. Doppelbock. I had a six-pack of Paulaner’s Salvator doppelbock a few weeks ago, and it is a fantastic beer, so very different from the aggressive hoppiness of native Northwest beers.

    The beer in the article was named “Illuminator Doppelbock”, which is a head-nod to tradition. You can read more here, but basically, Paulaner’s Salvator was the first commercial doppelbock sold, I believe. Lots of imitators soon came out, also calling themselves “Salvator” (Latin for “savior”), until trademark law started being enforced.

    After that, most doppelbocks chose a name that ends in “ator”, as an homage or reference. So you have Spaten Optimator, Ayinger Celebrator, and, inevitably, even names like Devastator.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    And the Kulminator, which in the 1980s ranked as the world’s strongest beer with wine-like 12% alcohol. Probably surpassed now.

    And at that alcohol percentage, I’d have to wonder whether that clarity was actually something else. :^) Maybe I’ll try some Salvator next week…..

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    And the Kulminator, which in the 1980s ranked as the world’s strongest beer with wine-like 12% alcohol. Probably surpassed now.

    And at that alcohol percentage, I’d have to wonder whether that clarity was actually something else. :^) Maybe I’ll try some Salvator next week…..

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And the Kulminator, which in the 1980s ranked as the world’s strongest beer with wine-like 12% alcohol. Probably surpassed now.

    Heh. Um, yeah. Definitely surpassed.

    Here’s RateBeer’s list of the 50 strongest beers in the world by ABV. You’ll notice that #50 clocks in at 18% ABV. The top beer has a completely ridiculous 58% ABV (yes, that’s 116 proof, so it’s flammable), very much bringing into question the very notion of whether it’s actually beer at that point.

    Most of the strongest beers are eisbocks, or doppelbocks that have been frozen (often repeatedly) to get rid of all that unnecessary water.

    But those beers mostly appear to be gimmicks. Of the lot of them, I’ve only seen #50 for sale at my local bottle shop.

    So ignore all that. And enjoy a nice Salvator. Because, man, that’s a good beer.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And the Kulminator, which in the 1980s ranked as the world’s strongest beer with wine-like 12% alcohol. Probably surpassed now.

    Heh. Um, yeah. Definitely surpassed.

    Here’s RateBeer’s list of the 50 strongest beers in the world by ABV. You’ll notice that #50 clocks in at 18% ABV. The top beer has a completely ridiculous 58% ABV (yes, that’s 116 proof, so it’s flammable), very much bringing into question the very notion of whether it’s actually beer at that point.

    Most of the strongest beers are eisbocks, or doppelbocks that have been frozen (often repeatedly) to get rid of all that unnecessary water.

    But those beers mostly appear to be gimmicks. Of the lot of them, I’ve only seen #50 for sale at my local bottle shop.

    So ignore all that. And enjoy a nice Salvator. Because, man, that’s a good beer.

  • helen

    My first impulse was to wonder if I could do it on Dove Dark….

    But I think lobster bisque would be a better choice for 46 days. :)

  • helen

    My first impulse was to wonder if I could do it on Dove Dark….

    But I think lobster bisque would be a better choice for 46 days. :)


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