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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

soundoff (333 Responses)
  1. Frederica

    I thought Protestants don't drink. He should join Catholics if he wants to mimic monks.

    April 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • OhReally

      Plenty of Protestants drink even some who's sects forbid it... There are plenty of protestant sects that drink.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Byrd

      If you really want to drink seriously after church, I'd recommend trying the Episcopalians. Something about drinking a Bloody Mary after eating the body and drinking the blood that really brings out the true vampire nature.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  2. Ski & Brew

    Mockery of Lent? I think not! The mockery is religion over intellect. The world would be a better place if goodness came from one's innate desire to get along in the world instead of a means to an end (afterlife).

    April 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  3. Ben Franklin

    Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.

    April 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  4. Byrd

    I guess it's at least worth a try!

    April 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  5. Burbank

    Why is CNN promoting alcoholism?

    April 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • OhReally

      They aren't

      April 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  6. Allergic Tobeer

    On another note, does the brewmaster have one blue and one brown eye?! Awesome!

    April 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • JLV

      I actually think it is a trick of the light if you look close there appear to be twinges of blue in his left eye. So I think it's just a trick of the photogragh. But I'm not sure.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  7. Michelle

    Umm...Lent only 40 days . The point of Lent is to be more prayerful and remember the sacrifices Jesus made. On another point, I am pretty sure there will not be any violence due ti this fun article. Just a laugh.

    April 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • wyatt

      Sundays don't count (I won't explain it – look it up if you are interested) – so it actually takes 46 days. I don't know too many people to claim the technicality, but I think one's sacrifice might not apply on Sundays either.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  8. Squeezebox

    Even the monks shouldn't be doing it! Alcohol, with the exception of sacramental wine, and even then in very small doses, is pleasure and should be given up! Break your fast on something else!

    April 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • OhReally

      Try drinking only beer and nothing else for one day nevermind lent and see how you feel about calling it pleasure. Seriously, it is obviously a harsh form of grueling deprevation and not intended to be fun.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Beer Geek

      Another person who thinks they have the monopoly on religious knowledge.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • JLV

      I'm not sure that the bible supports your view of sacrementational limitation. Perhaps the fires of hell are there to thaw your cold and self righteous heart. Have you recieved your invitation yet. After all hell has gates, thus it's a gated community and you may not be admitted without a reservation. So act now, supplies are limited!

      April 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  9. biblecat

    this liquid diet is good for the catholics and heathen, insane

    April 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Beer Geek

      Translation: if you don't worship exactly as I worship, then you are not a Christian and you are going to Hell.

      I am sure the poster will smugly tell such heathens and Catholics that he/she will pray for their salvation, whilst at the same time smirking and gloating at the thought of watching, from their place at God's right hand, as these foul heathens meet their grim fate.

      Pah.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • derp

      Do you poop in a litterbox?

      April 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  10. SeanNJ

    I've put away a fair number of beers, and I've never seen god as a result. Pink elephants, maybe, but never god.

    This does seem like a silly idea, although if I could get four free kegs of a good microbrew out of it, I think I could be "saved" for a little while.

    April 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • OhReally

      Who said you would see go just because you got drunk?

      April 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Pinky

      God is a pink elephant, so you actually did see God.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @OhReally: You said: "Who said you would see go just because you got drunk?"

      Nobody. Did I say I was refuting someone's as.sertion?

      Thanks. Move along.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  11. ohtoxicone

    bottoms up!!..

    April 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  12. Maria

    I have heard that monks did this, however, I'm a little tired of all mentions of Lent being about how "Christians" do it when what you mean is Catholics and a few Protestant denominations. The second-largest group of Christians in the world, Orthodox Christians, observe Lent by giving up all red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish (except shellfish), and wine and oill and focusing on prayer and almsgiving. They never "give up" something like chocolate or something like that and they don't start on Ash Wednesday, they start on Clean Monday.

    This view of Lent that I usually see on this site is very America-focused where Orthodoxy is not as much a part of the landscape.

    April 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • OhReally

      You probably find that most views of lent on this site are Amreican focused because it is an American publication targeting an American audience. And most commentators are American. Since most Americans aren't orthodox most views arent othodox... Huh imagine that... duh
      Which day of the week someone starts a sacrament on is the kind of thing a self-assured religious person would get caught up with isn't it. Not really, so sorry for you...
      O if it is a contest o be righteous. I guess this guy wins because he's giving up all the the things you (might) give up and more. So maybe he is one of the chose people and you are destined for an eternity of fire

      April 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  13. DonS

    Quote: ""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." Really? Um, no, not even close, and this is a classic example of poor research and scholarship. Einbeck wasn't – and still isn't – ever in Bavaria. It's in Lower Saxony (German: Niedersachsen). Einbeck's brewing tradition is not only Saxonian, it's secular; as far back as the 13th century, brewing rights were granted to "Full Citizens" of the city. The city became widely known for its strong "Export" beer, brewed to higher alcoholic content to help preserve it during shipping. Its reputation spread far and wide, and in 1612, a brewer from Einbeck was hired to brew a similar beer in Munich. Munich/Bavarian dialect rendered this town's name as "Oanpock," shortened eventually to simply "Pock" and finally "Bock." The beer has changed a lot over the centuries, too, but one thing remains true: BAVARIAN PAULINE MONKS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!

    April 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • OhReally

      blah blah blah and ...The monks drank nothing but beer for lent... So you were saying?

      April 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  14. Lila

    Haha, I think I did this one summer when I was in college.

    April 6, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  15. Alex

    beer is overrated.

    April 6, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Beer Geek

      What a pathetic post. If you don't like beer, that's your choice, but to denigrate it as "overrated" is merely to show up your own pitiful ignorance.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  16. Jalen

    I have tried this several times in my life... Its not a religious period... its called a BENDER, and it is a fast ticket to rehab.

    April 6, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • OhReally

      Rubish

      April 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Pfft

      Four beers spread evenly through the day intermingled with prayer, bible studies, and monks... yep just like everyone else at rehab

      April 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • derp

      The guy is drinking 13 cases of beer in 40 days. Sounds like a bender to me.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  17. JB

    Blast! I've been doing it backwards! But I'm pretty sure my employer would not be on board with my drinking beer all day, even for "religious reasons."

    April 6, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • OhReally

      That's the great thing about benig self employed you don't have to live by other people's rules or standards. There are some w-2ers out there that can think outside f the box even though they are w-2 and then there are people who live in the box and that is the only world they know. I'm sorry you ended up as one of the latter. baaaa!

      April 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • @JB

      It doesn't seem like an employer should care. He is drinking a beer for breakfast, lunch, and snack while in the office. I'm a lightweight but even I could handle three beers over the course of 9 hours and not be drunk at work.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  18. Reality

    When the monks fasted on the beer, they did not filter out the yeast that reproduced and multiplied, and eventally settled at the bottom of the brewing vessel in a substantial amount. There is not then only calories, but protien in the yeast. I wonder if I can convince my boss to allow me to do this for religious reasons? Maybe the police too?

    April 6, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • OhReally

      Considering this guy is a historian and avid homebrewer which is stated in the article as the reason why he is doing this, I'm pretty sure he knows the difference between filtered and unfiltered beer, and understands that the Paulaner monks did not filter their beer and consumed the trub. Not all mass produced beer is filtered. Micro Brews are even less likely to filter all of their brews.
      The last time I looked drinking beer is not illegal so not sure the police really care or can do much about it. I highly doubt that he will go to a job while doing this. what a moronic thing to say. I would guess he wont be working i.e. PTO or he is self employed and this is an attmept to generate income. i.e he is writing a book or writing a column...

      April 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Rosenburg

      Just wanted to point out that they said his boss was cool with it and he brought a keg to the office.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  19. Joe Average

    This article makes a mockery of Lent. Shame on CNN.

    April 6, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • OhReally?

      So if monks live off of beer alone it is not a mokery out of lent, but a serious religious ritual, but if anyone else does it is a mokery... That makes sense... Not really but whatever

      April 6, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Spuds

      I'm guessing you didn't read the article. Monks have been doing it for hundreds of years. Why not go tell the monks that they are making a mockery of Lent? Do you think you could support your argument to them? I doubt it.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jordan

      No it's not. Lent is giving something up for 40 days, the fact that this man has given up food is admirable.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jordan

      @John Hit up a dictionary. There is a difference between religion and a cult.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      All fair game from my point of view. The reasoning given for Lent is to increase appreciation for the supposed sacrifice of Jesus by depriving yourself of something you enjoy for 40 days before Easter. Christians are so full of guilt it's amazing that they manage to find any joy in life at all. Like Richard Dawkins once said "Unsupported claims merit unsupported criticism".

      April 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Stefan

      I completely disagree. I think this article, much like Mr. Wilson's fast, is showing that there are many different ways in which a Christian can practice their faith. While it is a bit odd in our current culture, it was indeed something that very devout monks did for many years. If anything, the article makes it a point to emphasize that Mr. Wilson considers this to be very serious and not just a gimmick. With all do respect, Mr. Joe Average, (knowing nothing about you or your personal beliefs) but that is something that has always irked me about ANY denomination of Christianity (myself being raised Catholic), is their seeming inability to accept that freedom of religion really means exactly that – freedom to practice your faith, or lack there of, in any way you seem fit. So, kudos CNN for bringing this story to my attention, I rather liked it.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Sam

      @AtheistSteve – I read the article and your comment. Full of guilt? After reading both, their "fun" with lent sounds a lot more joyful than your post. Relax Steve, you party animal. 😉

      April 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Epidi

      This is a true story – I visited a monestary in Germany who have made a wonderful dark beer for 900 yrs. My brother & I were told this by one of the beer brewing monks there. In the first old days of the monastary the monks would drink beer during lent while they fasted to keep their strength up for the hard work they did (beer is like a food group in Germany). The abbot wondered if the Pope would approve of the monks drinking alcohol during a holy fasting and sent a barrel of the beer to the Pope and asked him if the monks drinking this beer during lent was acceptable. Of course the Pope and his entourage being in Italy were wine drinkers. They took one taste of the beer and sent a message to the abbot that anyone who drank something that tasted so vile were surely doing penance and he gave the monks his blessing.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      @Sam
      Not sure how you got that from what I wrote. Starving yourself doesn't sound like fun to me. Lent is just a dumb idea. I like eating food and wouldn't voluntarily give it or anything else up for any reason other than medical ones.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Nick

      I wouldn't say this is a mockery of Lent, but I do think that he may be missing the point slightly. Yes, monks have done this for centuries, but I think the purpose of Lent is to not only give up something in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice, as the article states, but to really sacrifice something that is keeping someone from being closer to God. So if Mr. Wilson is drinking beer "just because the monks did," then I think he's missing the point. However, I think if drinking only beer will help him to get closer to God and to be better to others, then more power to him.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Buddist

      We do not have things like this in our religion sounds like fun. You guys should teach the Muslims about this beer-lent, then they may mellow out a bit. They are always Pi$$ed off about something.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Eric Cartman

      Maybe I will live off marijuana next year. This year it is too late. we are half way thru......... shucks!

      April 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Epidi

      Giving up food for a fast is done in many cultures – not just Christian. It is done to purify the body and prepare the mind for vision quests, spirit communication, etc. Depending on your religious flavor of course. However, if you aren't of a spiritual bent, fasting for so long can also produce hallucinations in some and explain away any "spiritual event" that happens during such a lengthy fast. Beleif, or lack of it, is all in the eye of the beholder.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Patrick

      MOCKERY?!?!?! The entire idea of religion is a friggin joke. Who are you kidding?

      April 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Epidi

      @Eric Cartman LOL, I wouldn't last the munchies 2 hrs much less 40 days, lol!

      April 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Sam

      @AtheistSteve – I stand corrected. After re-reading your earlier post and reading your more recent one I can clearly see you're an optimist who wants to, as Thoreau wrote, "suck out all the marrow of life" (after consulting with a physician of course).

      April 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Dorianmode

      Hey Joe,
      I think you may have to read between the lines a bit for this one. The Cistercian monks, mostly in France, but actually everywhere in Europe, the US, and South America, (ever been to Clairvaux or Citeaux.....beautiful Trappist abbeys in France, since the 1200's.....they both have fascinating web sites) have been drinking a glass of wine with their noon meal for a thousand years. They never get drunk. I think they are also responsible for the basic research which supports the champagne industry today. It is not scandalous, but completely normal in European culture.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • derp

      "Lent is just a dumb idea."

      Several years ago I was trying to figure out what to give up for lent when I had a stroke of genius.

      I gave up giving things up. Never looked back, and have not had to give anything else up since then. Totally outsmarted god.

      Me 1
      God 0

      Win!!!!!!

      April 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • disygi

      lent is a joke on it's own without CNN

      April 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Mahmoud El-Darwish

    I can do it if it's something nutritious like a Wheat Ale or Guinness 😉

    April 6, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • therealhawkman

      I give up something every year for Lent. My favorite is giving up CNN.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • therealhawkman

      A man who understands the finer points of Lent.

      April 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • El Jefe

      Patrick, how do you know that? I know a Jew named Patrick who isn't even Irish. My screen name here sounds hispanic, but I'm not. It looks like the only non-Christian we know of for sure in this discussion...is you, as demonstrated by your behavior.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
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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.