Monk - Art of CraftArt of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

March is the month when spring begins.

This year, March 1 is also Ash Wednesday, when the liturgical season of Lent begins.

Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. Traditionally, people begin a specific discipline during Lent, either giving something up or beginning something new. Some people stop consuming chocolate, or caffeine, or even alcohol.

People have been observing Lent for hundreds of years, including some of the monks who discovered significant developments in the history of beer.

Some people are surprised by the contributions religious people, like monks, have made to beer through the ages. In fact, monasteries have brewed beer for centuries. At a time when beer was an accepted part of everyday life, monks brewed beer to provide hospitality and for their own consumption. Brewing is a reflective, contemplative practice.

Hildegard of Bingen, a woman who led a monastic community in the twelfth century and made major contributions to chant and music, is the first person to write about using hops in brewing beer.

Many people believe Trappist monasteries in Belgium brew the best beer in the world, even today.

One group of monks, the Paulaners, arrived in Munich from Italy in 1627 and began brewing beer for their own consumption. In 1634 they developed a new beer which was essentially a double bock beer. 

One of the ways the monks in this monastery observed Lent was by fasting, not eating solids food. They believed liquids cleansed the body and the soul. Some people believed the more you drank, the purer you became for Easter. They were enthusiast, then, about spending Lent with the “liquid bread” of their doppelbock beer. 

The abbot became concerned these stronger, more intoxicating, brews might be too much of an indulgence for Lent, and decided to ask for advice. He sent a cask of beer to Rome with a letter asking whether they had permission to drink the beer during Lent.

Some people think it was because the cask was tossed and turned on its journey across the Alps and heated by the Italian sun, and the beer turned sour and undrinkable. Other believe the Pope and the Cardinals in Rome were more accustomed to the taste of wine than strong ale.

Whatever the reason, they read the letter, opened the cask, and decided that if the monks were willing to drink something that tasted like this for forty days, they must be deeply devout. The monks received a letter granting permission to drink their beer during Lent.

While the Paulaner doppelbock is no longer brewed by monks, it is still produced using the same recipe and available as Paulaner Salvator.

Even in our more skeptical times, the devotion of these monks continues to inspire people. For several years there have been news reports about people exploring Lenten “beer fasts” and “monastic beer diets.” There are lists of the best bock beers for Lent fasting and diaries of various people’s experiences.

Lent is a season in which people can begin significant, intentional changes in their lives. It is an opportunity to reflect, assess, and start building new habits. It may be a season for letting things go, or for making fresh starts. 

Starting a beer fast could be a way for you to set off in a new direction. Beer has helped spark some real changes in my life.

Practically, it would help to either have a healthy supply of beer on hand, or choose a craft brewery or tasting room within walking distance. You probably do not want to need to drive back and forth, particularly on a freeway.

Please practice Lent responsibly.

Greg Richardson is a leadership and organizational coach, and a spiritual life mentor, in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg is a recovering attorney, executive, and university professor. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at StrategicMonk@gmail.com

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