Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson
March is the month when spring begins in our
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
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
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
he writes a blog for the