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For Lent, can man live by brew alone?
J. Wilson (right) is only drinking beer for lent. Eric Sorensen (left) a brewmaster helped make the beer.
April 6th, 2011
08:42 AM ET

For Lent, can man live by brew alone?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - For the 46 days of Lent, J. Wilson is forgoing solid food and only drinking beer and water - just as Bavarian monks did hundreds of years ago.

Wilson is a husband, father, newspaper editor and beer enthusiast. The 38-year-old is the proprietor of the beer blog brewvana, where the motto is, "An ideal condition of harmony, beer and joy."

"That pretty much sums up our lifestyle," Wilson told CNN.

Wilson is not a suds-soaked frat boy, but a careful home brewer with an eye for history and a hope for a spiritual breakthrough.

He is a nondenominational Christian who said he doesn't like to get hung up on religious labels.

He is practicing a Lenten fast with Christians throughout the centuries who typically give something up from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday (April 24 this year) to remind them of the sacrifice they believe Jesus made on the cross for them. Typically, Christians give up something such as alcohol or sweets.

Wilson knows his sacrifice is bit extreme. He said his wife, Michelle, has been completely supportive. In his experiments as a home brewer in Iowa, he said Michelle "puts up with a yeast blow up on the ceiling."

There are doctor's visits during the fast, and he did copious research before he began. He even bulked up beforehand, knowing he would lose weight. "I wasn't running into this half-cocked," he said. "I didn't wake up on Ash Wednesday and think, 'Wow this would be a great idea.' "

It helps that his boss at the Adams County Free Press is on board, because he keeps a keg at the office. Each morning, Wilson pours himself a 12-ounce Illuminator Doppelbock for breakfast. Then another at lunch, a 3:15 p.m. snack and finally a beer around 7:15 p.m., once he is home and settled in with the family. Each beer has about 288 calories and is about 6.7% alcohol he said.

His brew of choice pays homage to the monks he's emulating. It was made at Rock Bottom Brewery in Des Moines, Iowa, with the help of senior brewer Eric Sorensen.

"It's got that flavor of malt, the flavor of bread, the flavor of toast and a certain amount of creaminess. It's like drinking bread - dark, good bread," Sorensen said.

Sorensen said the idea of a beer fast has long roots and he was very familiar with the idea when Wilson brought it up at a beer festival.

"Three hundred or four hundred years ago, a group of Paulaner monks in a Bavarian region had made a stronger beer in a town called Einbeck and they called it bock. The monks started making a stronger beer, a double beer, called doppelbock," Sorensen said. "The story goes the monks would give up eating and literally would drink this 'liquid bread' to sustain them through their Lenten fast."

In January, he and Wilson slightly altered one of Wilson's home brew recipes to create the Illuminator Doppelbock. They brewed 279 gallons of the beer, a typical batch for the brewery and restaurant.

The publicity around Wilson's fast ended up being a boon for business at the Rock Bottom Brewery. They were packed on Fat Tuesday when Wilson ate his last solid food, boiled crayfish and corn on the cob. Sorensen gave Wilson four kegs, which is about 20 gallons of beer, for the fast.

"He didn't actually pay for the beer; I kinda paid for it myself. It went a long way in terms of advertising," Sorensen said.

Wilson is blogging about his fast at Diary of a Part-time monk and hopes to write a book about his experience.

He is over the halfway mark on the fast, which he'll break on Easter Sunday in keeping with Christian tradition. One thing he has learned early on was "the difference between hunger and desire."

The media attention got a bit overwhelming. He was doing three or four radio interviews day but has decided he, "just had to retire from morning radio."

He said has been reading through the Old Testament book of Psalms, meeting with a pastor and tried to increase his prayer life as part of the spiritual elements of the fast. He also spent last weekend visiting an group of monks at Conception Abbey in Missouri.

He said there have been many little spiritual breakthroughs living like a fasting monk in the modern world.

"I think in the first few days there were lots of little tidbits of enlightenment. I felt like I was in a tunnel and really focused. You could live among the craziness in the world and be a focused Christian."

The hunger stopped during the first week, he said, and he has no designs to break his fast.

"No question, I'd have to get hit by a bus to stop." From here on out he said it would be, "just an exercise in discipline."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Europe • Germany • Holidays • Lent • United States

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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.