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. cool_kid

    Man, I love beer, I bath in the stuff cause I'm a REAL man. I don't ever drink anything else, and that makes me so cool. I'm going to joing this cool person and drink nothing but beers for the rest of my life cause I want to be as cool as this person.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • OhReally

      wow must have taken you all day to think of something so stupid to say

      April 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  2. chuck_lory

    Wake up chuckie, you're living a nightmare. Oh well, goodbye, come back as a butterfly. bubye!!!

    April 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  3. OhReally

    SeanNJ, I guess that makes your first comment even less relevant.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      I'm sorry my post didn't meet your trolling standards, Lycidas.

      As I said...move along.

      April 6, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • OhReally

      apology accepted

      April 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  4. Varun

    TRUE Christian enlightenment. Western defintion of religion and god is totally awesome!

    April 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • OhReally

      How is that the "western definition of religion"? 1) I bet you drink alcohol and are a hypocrite 2) One person or one group of people i.e. "Christians" don't represent all people. duh. Alcohol is used in religous ritual in many religions an has been for thousands of years in both eastern and western societies

      April 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • usarnaem

      Monks have been brewing beer for centuries, long before a bunch of puritanical fascists decided they wanted more control over what people did to their own bodies.

      Not to mention that in moderation, beer is actually good for you. A glass a day keeps your heart healthy.

      April 6, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  5. chuckie_drugchine

    You little poosy punks. Beer? Can't handle the hard stuff? Lint is special if you've got tiger blood dude. Get some 7 gram rocks and a pile of LSD and even throw in some heroin and a few barrels of whiskey and act like a grown man, you little poosy punks.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  6. HeavenSent

    You drunkards are going to hell and will burn forever.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Miami_is_4_Lubers

      How can you burn in an imaginary place?
      Oh I get it. You believe that there really is a super hot place with a mean red man. Haha. Now that IS funny.

      April 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Normon

      I have it on the highest authority that I will only burn for 1/2 of eternity, thank you very much.

      Second 1/2 is a low simmer.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • JLV

      Hey that's cool as long as you make sure I don't get an assigned seat next to you, because I couldn't handle an eternity of your whining. I mean you seem to be the expert on hell, so I guess you've got your ticket already or maybe your name is on the list cause you can't expect that bribe the doorman stuff to work down there. And can you have them place me in the over 21 section close to the bar.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  7. chuckie_drugchine

    I've decided to just have LSD and 7 grams rocks of crack everyday of lint and nothing else. Partay, partay, partay MAN!!! YeeeeHaaaaaaa!!!

    April 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  8. yllus228

    nothing like being wrong when trying to correct someone else. Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days. this year, Lent is from March 9th-April 24th...46 days. You may not abstain from your fasting on Sundays. That is just incorrect and not a basic religious fact. The only fact is that you are mistaken on both claims. Sorry.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  9. max

    I would recommend drinking whiskey instead of beer if it's all your going to have for so many days. It sounds like you're going to be drinking a lot of beer and you are going to have to spend a lot of your time peeing. Switch to whiskey and you will save a lot of walking to the restroom.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  10. Shane

    Too bad he chose Rock Bottom. I don't think I could last two pints having to drink that stuff.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  11. Fuyuko

    Lent is not about being unhealthy.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  12. Cedar Rapids

    I'm with Emo Philips on this one....

    I'm not catholic but I'm giving up picking my belly button for lint.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  13. Nicolae

    So fers itw haes owerkd ofroe me....

    April 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Nicolae's Keyboard

      I'm not a pillow.

      April 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  14. BillyDWilliams

    Remember when the Rev Al Sharpton went on a hunger strike, but continued to eat soup. FAIL. I told him it wouldn't work. Only beer is allowed on a religious fast. Pass the doppelbock. Jezuz hates sissies.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • OhReally

      More stupid jokes.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  15. The all potent one

    Sounds like an excuse to stay drunk to me

    April 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • DPain

      Oh yes, nothing like 4 12oz beers throughout a 24 hour period to keep you absolutely LIT.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      Wow, you must be a cheap drunk, One beer for breakfast, one for lunch and your smashed eh'

      April 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • OhReally

      wow that was original...

      April 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  16. Crystal

    As a journalist myself I would be receiving tons of correction e-mails based on that lede. Lent is 40 days. Sundays during the lent season do not count toward the days of fasting (they are feast days). Come on CNN, that's a basic religious fact.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Nick

      Actually, Lent is 46 days this year because of the way Easter falls. Maybe you would realize this if you didn't just want to find mistakes with the article. Also, he isn't FASTING per say, he just decided to GIVE UP everything but beer for lent. You people in this world is why it's so screwed up. Can't commend a guy for doing something he believes in, just find mistakes about an article...

      April 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • nmc

      Dear Nick, Lent is 40 days every year, regardless of the "way" Easter falls. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is always 46 days before Easter. Sundays do not count as a part of Lent, not this year, not any year, regardless of the "way" Easter falls. Before you criticize anyone for finding fault with someone's article, perhaps you should check your facts. And a fast does not necessarily mean giving up all food and/or beverages. For Lenten purposes, a fast can be giving up only one item of food, or one practice that a person particularly enjoys, or some other such practice.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • mountainfire

      It is 46 days from Ash Wed to Easter Minus 6 Sundays = 40 days. But giving up something and then having a mini celebration once a week is hardly a sacrifice at all. Yes, the church allows you to "indulge" every Sunday. The church is, also, an organized religion created by man. The story goes, Jesus spent forty days in the desert. If it turns out he ate and drank every Sunday then I could hardly find a lesson in this story and it should never have been passed down for the past couple millennium. This lent I gave up beer, meat, and decided to attend church (because i don't follow the church). I see it as an opportunity to learn, become open minded, and to be healthy in and out. I gave up these items the full 46 days, knowing that a greater challenge creates a greater discipline. This man isn't necessarily following the rules, he is in it for the challenge. And no matter how bizarre the challenge. A challenge is a challenge, and i respect people the are creative with the ways they challenge themselves.

      April 6, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Jesus

      LOL! Oh really? Sundays are Feast days and are not part of Lent? I suggest you do your homework before commenting.

      April 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Crystal

      While this is only my second lent to observe (new Catholic), I have been around if for years and know for a fact that lent is 40 days; however, I do not stop my lenten fast on Sundays (a lot of people continue their fast from Ash Wednesday all the way through Easter Sunday). And the "fast" doesn't have to be giving up something, it could be adding something – like praying the rosary every day during lent. It is meant as a time to bring you closer to Jesus as you remember what he sacrificed.

      I'm not criticizing the man, I'm pointing out a glaring mistake in the lede of the story. If the man is drinking only beer for lent and the six Sundays, the lede could have been written in a way to make that clear. I'm surprised this article didn't go through a religious editor who would have caught the error. No criticism on the man, but the writer. It's something us writers have to develop a thick skin for. Anytime I make a mistake in an article I hear about it from people left and right.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  17. jack

    I did drink about 3 gallons of beer a day for about 20 years up until about a year ago. Then I switched to nothing but straight bourbon whiskey and now I only drink about a half gallon a day so I have to pee a lot less.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • OhReally

      Wow so unoriginal and not funny... congrats

      April 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  18. lchin

    Wow, it's Charlie Sheen Jr. Only drinking beer for Lent. Either got two livers or one heck of a prostate.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  19. Rebecca

    If you think about it, a lot of peasants abstained from eating meat during lent. This kept their breeding stock. I understand and approve of choosing beer and abstaining from meat!

    April 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  20. POD

    Absolutely NOT......you also need whiskey,slim jims,chips, pork rinds and.....cigars!

    April 6, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • OhReally

      That obviously isn't facsting an is quite immature and unoriginal as you cans see form the othe stupid jokes on here

      April 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
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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.