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. Starwoid

    A few lessons learned from reading these comments:

    1. Most people do not understand Christian fasting. People fast for various reasons. Jesus challenges us to fast in the NT when he says, "When you fast." It is not a manmade idea, it is a God idea.

    2. Making fun of something is easy to do on the internet. People would not say half of this to people's faces in real life. If you would, it is just one more evidence of our evil, depraived hearts. This is the reason we need Christ, to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh.

    3. Ultimately it does not matter what someone writes in reply to this article, it will A) Be taken as too critical of it or another poster, B) Be childish and/uneducated, C) Be an unmerited attack D) Be constructive. Rarely does someone post on these blogs and it is constructive though. That is my aim.

    April 7, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  2. Beer=Good

    Beer helped fund the growth of our nation, just about all of our founding fathers were master brewers.

    In ancient times, everyone drank beer, including children. Water was full of bacteria, and people who drank it would get sick and die. Making beer requires one to boil water. People didn't realize it at the time, but the process of brewing beer cleansed the water. Ancient folk just new that water = death and beer = good.

    Watch "How beer saved the world" on Discovery if you're interested... some of the arguments are farfetched though...

    April 7, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  3. Cyn

    Even though he says "it's like drinking bread", I have to wonder if beer, even very good homemade beer, has the necessary fiber/roughage the body needs.

    April 7, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • derp

      "it's like drinking bread",

      I drank a whole loaf last night.

      April 7, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  4. Cyn

    IAfter he breaks his fast, I'd be interested in comparing and contrasting his health results with those of the fellow in "Supersize Me" .

    April 7, 2011 at 5:33 am |
  5. JD

    No, I meant Herion, the obscure yet talented fashion designer in Sarasota Florida.

    Okay, maybe not.

    April 7, 2011 at 2:37 am |
  6. 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"

    And from the CDC- 2011

    "Alcohol-impaired driving is a serious public health problem that kills about 11,000 people and costs nearly $110 billion a year.

    •Every day, 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes.

    • One in 3 fatal motor-vehicle crashes involves an alcohol-impaired driver."

    April 7, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • JD

      Now you're going to tell us that herion is bad for us too.

      April 7, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • HeavenSent

      JD, you are going to burn in hell for misspelling heroin.


      April 7, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Fake heavensent, still haven't figured out UY? Sadly, you still are.


      April 7, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  7. Bibletruth

    Many folks fast for health reasons, some one day a week, some a couple to a few days every so often.. I personally know one that fasted 42 days with absolutely nothing but distilled water. The point is fasting is not prayer. However, short fasts can enhance prayer. Why? Because it is true that the mind is clearer on an empty stomach or at least a less full one. Those folks who talk about giving something up for lent ...and the purpose is? Whatever the purpose thats OK, but dont for a moment think there is salvation merit in such a thing, or any merit of any kind, because there is zero merit in such things. It is 100% unbiblical if one thinks it is a requirement of God. It is soley a man idea. Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for a very specific reason-that man can never consider there is an excuse for a sin (like hunger, like thirst, etc.), for the Son of God, in his humanity, with nothing available to him that any born again does not have (that is the Holy Spirit) proved there is no excuse for sin. Every temptation that can come to a human being was addressed by Christ through those three temptations. Now it is totally sad that one should come to a point where he can associate lent with drinking alcohol, something God does not condone.

    April 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  8. robert

    What exactly did Jesus sacrific for us? Oh ya, he sacrificed walking around in the desert so he could sit on a throne in heaven. Thanks Jesus, how can I return the favour?

    April 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • 2Cor521

      Really? I would argue it's a bit more than just walking in the desert. Pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our inequities comes to mind. Just a thought.

      April 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Jesus

      Repent and live the Gospel.

      April 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • daoudayoub

      @2cor521, and we've all been pierced for someone else's transgressions and crushed by their inequities committed several thousand years ago back in the garden of Eden. Talk about holding a grudge. Do we call God, "God" or perhaps, "The Godfather".

      April 6, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  9. Brcas

    Mr. Wilson has finally hit the ideal white man nirvana. He is going to give up food and morph into a full time worthless drunken lout. He's making his demographic proud. As Tim Taylor would say, "Ar Ar Ar Ar".

    No doubt, his wife will have to make sure the bills are paid, the kids are parented and the house is maintained.

    April 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  10. cattynui

    Anyone are not faithful of God,Jesus and Virgin Mary. If anyone have gave up church for lent , anyone will be happened bad. we don't give up church for Lent.
    God really exist in heaven and many universes. God really created the biggest universes are most beautiful and the most beautiful supernatural .

    April 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • daoudayoub

      @cattynui, now are we supposed to rearrange the words you typed into legible sentences?....

      April 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • derp

      Is that some form of cryptic secret code that only people who believe in god know?

      April 7, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  11. Marko

    Thank you for a very interesting article. Blessings for a wonderful lenten journey, and discovery of some really great beer.

    April 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Dave

      I would prefer a variety of beers as you suggest, instead of a keg of the same thing 4 times a day for 46 days.

      April 7, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  12. Day off

    I have some lint in my pocket. some of it is different colors

    April 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • steve.steve

      I like lint. It is soft and fuzzy.

      April 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  13. sam

    advertising the biggest killer in the world as if it were good for you..........wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

    no smoking allowed.............my my my my my

    April 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • JLV

      Actually the biggest killer in the world is death.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • usarnaem

      Alcohol in moderation is perfectly fine, and studies have shown at least one glass of beer or wine a day is actually good for you. Make it a point to inform yourself before you go around spouting your clueless opinions.

      April 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  14. peter

    I gave up church for lent.

    April 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • The Human Race

      and we gave up on you.

      April 6, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  15. glenbear

    Big Deal: i lived by beer alone for 17 years....its called alcoholism not lent! thanks to AA and a Power greater than myself I have been sober for 8 years.

    April 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Katee

      Good for you!

      April 6, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  16. nmc

    Dear Eric Marrapodi, please note that Lent is 40 days, not 46. Sundays are considered little Easters and are days of celebration. Sundays are not counted in the days of Lent.

    April 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • douglas

      NMC... it depends what religion you are speaking of... Orthodox Christians don't take "Sundays off", every day is considered part of lent.

      April 6, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  17. derp

    I gave up farting in church

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

      I didn't. I let them rip all the time.


      April 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Fake heavensent, still a coward, I see.


      April 7, 2011 at 6:48 am |
    • Dave

      Wouldn't it be funnier if your name was "HeavenScent?"

      April 7, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  18. holycow

    Sorry, I'm gonna' judge:
    Aren't Lenten sacrifices supposed to be private and therefore not publicized?

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

      Aren't you supposed confront him privately first or did you already do that and then confronted him with another christian before judging him publickly online?

      April 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Normon

      holycow is obviously a Hindu, why would he follow Christian rules?

      April 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • notfromfla

      Good one Norman

      April 6, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  19. andrei

    drinking rots ur brain.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • JumbledUp

      So does using texting "shorthand" when posting a comment about an article.... By the way, "ur" is short for "you are" or "you're".

      April 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Miami_is_4_Lubers

      Drinking ZIma doesn't.

      April 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Normon

      Drinking Zima indicates no brain to rot.

      April 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Normon

      Wouldn't that be u'r?

      April 6, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • anon

      It took me a second to get it, too. Think phonetically. You=u and Are=r

      April 6, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Tom

      and your spelling ...

      April 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  20. mkub

    As a Catholic, I would argue that people don't give something up for lent "to remind them of the sacrifice they believe Jesus made on the cross for them." I was always told (through 13 years of Catholic school) that it was because Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days before being turned in to be crucified. I know it's splitting hairs but still. Pretty much any form of sacrifice all year round is (as I was told) to be "offered up" to Jesus due to his ultimate sacrifice/suffering. Not a big deal at all, just saying that's how I was taught.

    April 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • JLV

      40 days and then turned over to be crucified did your church use the cliff's notes version of the bible?

      April 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • CronkiteKid

      mkub is right, we fast during Lent because that is the time Christ spent in the desert fasting and being tempted by the Devil. While Jesus did die on the cross, there was a long time between his Temptation which occurs shortly after his baptism in Luke 4 and his crucifixion which of course doesn't occur until the end of Luke. Jesus does not even enter Jerusalem until Luke 19, his entire ministry happens between the two.

      April 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Skopji

      As an Episcopalian lent has been taught to me as a time to identify barriers that are in your way. You can find these by either giving up or taking on practices. As long as the outcome allows you to recognize god more in your everyday life.

      April 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Tom

      Fasting is a form of prayer, plain and simple.

      April 6, 2011 at 8:43 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.