Many beer fans know that the doppelbock beer style got its start among early Christian monks, who used strong beers as liquid sustenance during Lent, the 46-day period of fasting and prayer that leads up to Easter Sunday. But some need their knowledge about drinks to be more personal than the rest of us.
As winter fades into spring, it’s once again time for Lent — as well as for stories about people who are trying to replicate the all-beer diet of medieval monks in the modern era.
“I did it because I was genuinely curious about the origin story of doppelbock,” explains J. Wilson, who followed a beer-only diet for Lent in 2011, earning coverage in CNN, Men’s Health, and Draft Magazine, among other publications. He later described the experience in his own book, “Diary of a Part-Time Monk“.
Research into beer, Wilson says, had left him wondering if the history of doppelbock was real or more of a marketing ploy. So, he says, “I decided that the only way to find out for sure was to give it a try.”
Chris Schryer had followed different versions of the Christian fast in previous years before embarking on his own all-beer diet for Lent in 2014. “Part of my motivation was to use the fast as a way to communicate who I am and what I believe to people who probably have a pretty narrow definition of what a Christian is,” says Schryer, who lives in Toronto. His experience consuming nothing but beer was covered by such publications as The National Post and Vice, and even served to set up a joke about America’s northern neighbors in an opening monologue from Seth Myers (“Or as it’s known in Canada, a juice cleanse,” the bit went).
It was a media frenzy. “I was fielding dozens of calls a day, doing interviews for newspapers, phone-ins for radio programs, and filming for news shows,” Schryer says. “On the one hand, it was amazing. On the other, just as I was getting into a good routine in terms of the fast, and was probably going to enjoy some of the spiritual benefits of quiet and self-discipline, I suddenly had a media schedule that had me waking up at 3 a.m. most days and often not getting to bed until midnight.”
While giving up solid food for a month and a half might sound grueling, Del Hall, another voluntary participant in this very personal, yet very publicized life choice, says his experience with an all-beer diet for Lent in 2019 was surprisingly positive, at least after an initially tough start.
“The first four days were horrible, the first two weeks were generally bad,” Hall says. Though more of a secular challenge, rather than a religious one, Hall’s story earned him a phone call from a German cardinal, as well as articles about his experience in newspapers and magazines in more than 50 countries, including in Food & Wine, The New York Post, and right here at VinePair. After that, he says, he enjoyed slimming down and feeling more energetic, claiming “the weight loss and health benefits were amazing.”
While these all-beer dieters may have started their Lenten fast out of curiosity or a test of self-will, they often mention other benefits.
“One thing I learned with quite a bit of hindsight is that the old-school monks were probably more uncomfortable than I was during my relatively easy fast,” Wilson says. “I drank a lot of clean water to flush out my system. If they were drinking water on top of their beer, it might not have been terribly safe. So whether for bacteria or dehydration, I think they’d have been hurting more than I did.”
Schryer says he gained a deeper appreciation of his faith and who he is as a person. Hall is even planning to attempt a longer version of the fast — 50 days instead of 46 — in 2020.
And yet, despite the alleged benefits, none of the all-beer dieters recommended others try it. “Consult your doctor,” Schryer says. “They will tell you it’s a bad idea and they’re right.”