Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

March is the month when spring begins in our hemisphere.

It is also a month significantly shaped by the liturgical season of Lent.

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.

Some 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.

The monks in the Paulaner monastery observed Lent by fasting, not eating solid food, during Lent. They believed liquids cleansed the body and the soul. Some people believed the more you drank, the purer you became for Easter. They were enthusiastic, then, about spending Lent with the “liquid bread” of their doppelbock beer. 

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

Some people think it the cask was tossed and turned on its journey across the Alps and heated by the Italian sun, so 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, sampled from the cask, and decided that if the monks were willing to drink something that tasted like this for forty days, they must be truly 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.

One brewery worker last year lost 44 pounds by consuming only beer and water last year during Lent. He is prepared to repeat his practice again this year.

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.

Some people decide to give up all alcohol, including beer, for Lent while others develop a beer fast practice.

At least one church is hosting a night of peaceful reflection and fellowship with a light dinner and craft beers for Lent this year.

Starting a beer fast could be a way for us 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 spiritual life mentor in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg has served as an assistant district attorney and an associate university professor. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at StrategicMonk@gmail.com, and he writes a blog for the Contemplative channel on http://www.patheos.com.

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