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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. Steve

    I don't blame him. Beer is just about the only thing that hasn't gone up in cost...

    April 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  2. theDude

    Careful man, there's a beverage here!

    April 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  3. Deb Vasta-Wright

    I am going to join him~~~YUMMALICIOUS!!!!!!!

    April 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  4. BOOBUS BEEF

    so dumb

    April 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  5. Greg

    It's not only monks who did this. Beer was a main staple of the Egyptians. They used it for food suppliments as well as hydration. Many slaves who built the pyramids were given rations of bread and beer because water carried too much bacteria. And to think I was dumb enough to give up space walks for lent when I could have given up food and just enjoyed a clean dark beer. Damn man!

    April 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • JLV

      At the time of the Ancient Egyptian beer contained streptomiacin, an antibiotic, because of the brewing in ground pit based brewing process. So beer kept people healthy and happy.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  6. Frederica

    News features only weird people...

    April 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  7. Denman

    $10 says J. Wilson ends up becoming a "problem drinker" or full-blown alcoholic.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • jim homebrewer

      $20 says you're a troll, or just jealous that this guy gets to be on TV and you don't.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • JLV

      Actually denman isn't a troll. He couldn't afford the bridge.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • JLV

      The only problem he will have with his drinking is neoprohibitionists like yourself. People who think all alcohol is bad and rabidly attack it with words like demon rum. I also will bet you support legalizing drugs. Hate mongering and intolerance like yours always amazes me. It always uses a logic that make the most rabid cultist seem tame and moderate.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  8. HA!!!

    The guy on the left in the pic looks like Jim Brewer.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  9. dee

    Jesus was dehydrated during his 40 days/nights.. so, w/ beer- maybe he'll get the same effect.

    If I were him, I would just not wear any hats on my head for lent- and so be humbled by baldness (i'm guessing he's bald).

    April 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  10. samson

    Sooooo much of the bible is constantly taken out of text.....

    April 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Thanks

      I compare it to the "snowball" effect. Someone get's a splinter and by the time it goes thru 10 people, it turns into a broken arm. Imagine what man has done to the word of God over the years. And people look puzzled when I tell them I believe in God, but I'm not religious. It really get's em' in the craw. 😉

      April 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  11. Jujubeans

    anybody count the number of typos?

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

      No. I see nothing constructive to come from it.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Letamu

      It's annoying. An interesting article yet the typos and missing words are highly destracting. Don't they have editors?

      April 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Letamu

      pun intended

      April 6, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  12. Punctus

    This guy is my hero.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  13. Daniel

    The author states: "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". It is not the sacrifice we believe Jesus made... It IS the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross for EVERYONE.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Beer Geek

      No. Lent is in remembrance of the 40 days and nights that you believe Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and besing tested by the Devil.

      Good grief, you can't even get the tenets of your own religion right, and yet you try to assert it all as fact.

      Tip: the Bible is UNPROVEN. Your religion is a matter of FAITH and NOT a matter of fact. That's why they refer to it as a faith. 😉

      April 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Pinky

      There are many religions that don't believe Jesus ever existed, others believe that if he did exist, he was only an apostle and not the son of God. The writer / story was trying to be politically correct and unbiased toward other religions by stating it the way they did.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Jimbo

    I used to say "A pork chop in every bottle'.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  15. Aeon

    More evidence that booze is in fact food.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Reality

    From: http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/alcohol/howdoweknow/

    "Alcohol is one of the most well established causes of cancer

    Alcohol increases the risk of mouth and oesophageal (foodpipe) cancers

    Alcohol increases the risk of liver cancer

    Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer

    Alcohol increases the risk of bowel cancer

    Smoking and drinking together increases risk even more

    Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may increase the cancer risks of your children

    Alcohol could cause cancer in many ways

    If you drink alcohol, stick to safe limits

    Cutting down on alcohol can reduce your risk of cancer

    Red wine does not protect against cancer"
    /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    April 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Jimbo

      I bet you're a real fun person to hang out with.

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

      You forgot "Alcohol may cause one eye to change color!" (see guy in picture, on left)

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

      Unfriended.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • HI

      this person is a man, not a woman, um no pregnancy.....

      April 6, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • just me

      I'd like you to cite your sources for these horrific accusations against alcohol!

      April 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Normon

      And yet alcohol's not even in the 10 killers.

      http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu/cause.php
      Leading Causes of Death in 2001
      Developing Countries Number of Deaths
      1. HIV/AIDS 2 678 000
      2. Lower respiratory infections 2 643 000
      3. Ischaemic heart disease 2 484 000
      4. Diarrhoeal diseases 1 793 000
      5. Cerebrovascular disease 1 381 000
      6. Childhood diseases 1 217 000
      7. Malaria 1 103 000
      8. Tuberculosis 1 021 000
      9. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 748 000
      10. Measles 674 000
      Developed Countries Number of Deaths
      1. Ischaemic heart disease 3 512 000
      2. Cerebrovascular disease 3 346 000
      3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 1 829 000
      4. Lower respiratory infections 1 180 000
      5. Trachea/bronchus/lung cancers 938 000
      6. Road traffic accidents 669 000
      7. Stomach cancer 657 000
      8. Hypertensive heart disease 635 000
      9. Tuberculosis 571 000
      10. Self-inflicted 499 000

      Well Stomach Cancer might be related.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Normon

      Should read, "And yet alcohol's not even in the top 10 killers."

      April 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Henry Weinhard

      That's a total lie, Normon! There are lots of killer beers out there.

      April 8, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  17. Reality

    From: http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/alcohol/howdoweknow/

    "Alcohol is one of the most well established causes of cancer

    Alcohol increases the risk of mouth and oesophageal (foodpipe) cancers

    Alcohol increases the risk of liver cancer

    Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer

    Alcohol increases the risk of bowel cancer

    Smoking and drinking together increases risk even more

    Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may increase the cancer risks of your children

    Alcohol could cause cancer in many ways

    If you drink alcohol, stick to safe limits

    Cutting down on alcohol can reduce your risk of cancer

    Red wine does not protect against cancer"

    April 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Aeon

      Alcohol increases my ability to stand people like you.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Beer Geek

      Reality, you need to do some better research. Anything, taken to excess, is likely to be harmful to our health – yes, even the air we breathe! Many many studies have demonstrated that moderate consumption of alcholic beverages has health benefits. Even when it comes to cancer, there are studies that indicate protective, rather than causative effects. For example, some of the compounds found in hops are believed to be protective against several cancers, including cancer of the prostate.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • joep

      listening to idiots droll on and on causes cancer

      April 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Being alive increases the risk of cancer...

      April 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • JamieinMN

      Let's cut to the chase........EVERYTHING causes cancer. Now go enjoy yourself dammit.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Denman

      Beer Geek, Aeon, go ahead. Keep beliving that booze is benign, or even healthy for you. Wrap both arms around that belief and keep drinking. When the various cancers, conditions, frailties and various and sundry ailments start making you old, infirm and crippled before your time, be sure to NOT make the connection to alcohol. The medical community will accommodate you by NOT listing the cause of your death as alcohol-related. And the national illusion will remain intact. Booze is a crutch and it's for suckers who don't know how to enjoy life without chemical enhancement.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • JamieinMN

      Denman, I RARELY drink. I RARELY drink to get drunk....almost never. But I DO like to enjoy a tall glass of homebrew every now and then. I'm not a sucker who can't enjoy life without chemical enhancement. Quit making assumptions.......ruhtard.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • HomeBrewMethuselah

      You lose:

      But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that — for reasons that aren't entirely clear — abstaining from alcohol does tend to increase one's risk of dying, even when you exclude former problem drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.

      Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2014332,00.html#ixzz1IlZfc3wG

      April 6, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • JamieinMN

      Oh snaps Denman! HomeBrewMethuselah told you!

      April 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Lite-n-up

      What are you afraid of? You too will not get out of here alive. You may search for immortality all you like, but you are 100% guaranteed to fail in your quest. Do you really want to make it to 110 with dementia in a nursing home with someone else having to wipe your rear end everyday. Geez, have a beer! It'll be ok.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Dorianmode

      pssstttt joep,
      "droll" is an adjective, not a verb.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  18. hcqhvh

    Why limit it to Lent? A man can live virtually and perpetually on beer.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  19. Jason

    lol fantastic rediculousness! When I was a child I thought like a child, a baby Christian would say "the Bible doesn't say anything against a drink, just don't get drunk. A mature Christian, has set those childish beleifs aside and has some convictions, for instance I won't cause my younger brother in Christ to stumble. I will avoid what might not be techinically be wrong, for the sake of that weaker brother.

    Nice Strawman for the guy saying intellect over religion, as he worships evolution himself. Here is the question for him, you have no idea if you evolved correctly than, therefore you have no basis to beleive yourself lol

    April 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • AJ

      Uhh, what?

      April 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • civiloutside

      If you believe there is such a thing as "evolving correctly," then you do not understand evolution.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Giglioroninomicon

      ..............

      April 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • JL

      ...gibberish much?

      April 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Nonimus

      We all come from a long line of organisms that evolved 'correctly' – otherwise it's a short line.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  20. ThatGuy

    CNN, Lent represents Jesus's 40days and 40nights fasting in the desert and being tested by the devil. That's reason behind it, not the dying on the cross.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • t

      dude, if your are going to correct someone at least do it right, it was MOSES who spent 40 days and 40 nights! Not Jesus! Jesus Christ man! heyo

      April 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jujubeans

      details, details. They're just reporters. You can't expect them to worry about details.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Jujubeans

      you're wrong, t

      April 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • tbone

      Actually, ThatGuy is correct. Jesus did spend 40 days and 40 nights in the desert; it was the "first temptation" of Christ. Read Matthew 4:1-11 for the details.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Freddy T

      Man can not live on bread alone
      He must have BEER.
      But not alone.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • JJ

      Someone please nominate Adams County Free Press as top 100 places to work

      April 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Rob

      Ya know i've heard a lot of things people do in the nam of god but this ain't on of them. i hope he didn't drive to visit the monks.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Jason the Pendleton Rat

      @t,
      I think ThatGuy is correct. Lent was the period when the catechumens were instructed, and public sinners did penance, before being received (back), and baptised, into the church during the Easter Vigil. It is thought by some that the 40 day thing was a literary device which every Hebrew of that day would mentally "harken" back mentally to the 40 YEARS that the Isrealites were said to have wandered in the desert. I can't find any other example of Moses in the desert for any period of 40 anything, reading Exodus. I may be wrong however. Please correct me as needed.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • JLV

      Jason the reference to Moses is his being on top of the moutain with god for 40 days and his receiving the commandments. There is also the 40 days of the flood. There are a few examples of the usage of numbers as a reference to previous events.

      April 6, 2011 at 4:48 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.