Saints of the Suds: German Monks

This will be the first of a small series of sporadic entries dedicated to saints who loved beer.  While there are a number of authentic accounts of saints who personally imbibed, praised or otherwise promoted beer, they are a minority when compared to the number of saints who went on record condemning our favorite beverage.  Of course to me this makes them only all the more interesting.  But enough of the prologue… let’s move onto our first entry.

Ok, so this is a pretty broad and impersonal grouping to qualify as a “saint.”  Then again, I could probably do a whole series in this column just on the contributions that monks have made to beer.  No experienced beer drinker needs to be reminded of the contributions Belgian monks made to the cause of expanding our palettes.  But in this season of dopplebocks and starkbiers, it is really the German brothers that demand our attention.  Many, if not most, of the German breweries (particularly in pious Bavaria) were founded by monks.  Some, like Andechs, are still monastic operations today.

Yet the creation of the dopplebock arose, not out of a desire to create a new style of beer, but rather out of the necessity for sustenance.  In past centuries monks took their observance of Lent VERY seriously.  Now for those of you who may not be familiar,  Lent is the 40 daylong season that leads up to the celebration of Easter.  By tradition it is a penitential season and believers mark it through acts of contrition and self-deprivation.  Even today lots of people choose to give up some sort of vice (like smoking) or pleasure (like chocolate).  Many Roman Catholics observe Lent by not eating meat on Fridays.

But those monks of centuries past were hardcore.  They didn’t just give up meat.  They gave up food altogether.  Yet their fasting was not just for one day a week, it was for six (they got to eat on Sunday because long ago the Church decided that because of such nutritional hardships, that Sunday’s would not count as part of Lent).  Yep, you read it correctly, no food for six days in a row.  While the human body can survive it (we can go up to as much as 14 days without food), such fasting would still leave one greatly weakened and prone to illness if the body did not get its needed nutrients some other way.  So the monks found a loophole.  They were fasting from food, but not from liquid.  If they could not eat their bread, they would drink it.

It was in response to the need for sustenance that dopplebocks came to be.  They are loaded with all kinds on extra carbs and nutrients.  As a rule, they all end in with the suffix, “-ator.”  The most famous, and perhaps first, of them all is the Salvator, by Paulaner.  It means, you guessed it, “Salvation.”  And for those monks, it was indeed that… their savior from the near starvation of Lent.  If you have ever had the Celebrator, by Ayinger, then you know that these beers can indeed feel like you need a knife and fork to consume them.  Of the domestics, I have found none to rival the Troegenator by Troeg’s.

Having “ein mass” or two of either of these beers is more than enough for me.  Indeed, I can’t help but guess that a couple of dopplebocks, with their high alcohol content of 6-8%, must have given a decent buzz when taken on an empty stomach.  But I suppose if you have dedicated your life to God, and moreover, are going with food for 40-46 days for the sole purpose of drawing closer to that God, you are entitled to an indulgence or too.  Thanks to J.Wilson of Brewvana we no longer have to speculate quite so much.  In 2011 he picked up on this tradition of fasting and didn’t even eat on Sunday’s but went for 46 straight days on his own dopplebock and water.  His documentation of his experience lead to the book, Diary of a Part Time Monk and is well worth checking out.   So raise a glass to these ingenious monks and their 21st century heir.  We are the beneficiaries of their fasting.  And that makes them some very worthy Saints of the Suds.

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2 thoughts on “Saints of the Suds: German Monks

  1. Pingback: Pub Theology | So This Priest Walks Into a Bar…

  2. Pingback: The Curator Challenge | So This Priest Walks Into a Bar…

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