Ask a Priest: Is the Lenten Beer Fast Real or a Myth?
“Is the Lenten Beer Fast real, or just a myth?”
With lent fast approaching (no pun intended) I was once again questioned at my local watering hole if the so called “Beer Fast” was legit. There is a legend that monks in Germany developed Doppelbock (a type of strong beer) to subsist solely upon during the season of Lent. They would not eat, read chew, any food during lent but would consume, possibly, four doppelbocks a day as their only source of calories and nutrients. Doppelbock was first brewed by the Paulaner Monks at Neudeck ob der Au outside Munich, Germany in the 1600s. They had copious amounts of grain and for seasons of fasting such as lent they would use their grain to brew Doppelbock instead of baking bread. While Doppelbock is quite stronger than your typical American Lager (i.e. Miller Lite) it is also loaded with nutrients and vitamins. Consequently, this beer became known as “Liquid Bread”, it is also known as “Fastenbier” or Lent Beer.
It appears the concept of observing the lenten fast by only drinking beer is a real thing. How strictly or piously the monks went about their fast, one can only guess. This concept was tested in 2011 by Iowa journalist and homebrewer J. Wilson. He drank four doppelbocks a day during the week and five on the weekends. He reports that after initial bouts with hunger he began to experience a sharp level of clarity and a heightened awareness of the difference between needs and wants. You can read his article here.
While the lenten beer fast can be a tool for spiritual development, let me offer a word of caution. Not all fasts are suitable for all people. Just as an anorexic should not fast from food, and alcoholic should not embark on a beer fast. There are two keys with fasting, during lent or any other time: discipline and motivation. It’s the discipline not the chemistry that heightens focus. While there are a host of nutrients and vitamins in a well brewed Doppelbock, it is not a magical elixir; rather, the intentional practice of self denial leads to less distractions which leads to greater focus. Motivation matters a great deal as well. If your motivation is simply to drink beer than that is all you will get out of the experience. However, if you are seeking to grow closer to God, to become aware of how little you actually need and how much God provides, then subsiding on a just a few beers a day may assist in that effort. Therefore, no matter which fast you choose this Lent, seek more of God and less of this world.
Fr. Jason Emerson+ is the Rector of the Church of the Resurrection and author of the blog Fermenting The Word.