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
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
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