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Now that the countdown to Easter has begun, there has been renewed interest in the story of J. Wilson, the Iowa beer enthusiast that completed a 46 day long beer fast during Lent in 2011. Wilson subsisted on bock beer, which is a complex, malt-rich lager that generally skews a bit higher on the alcohol scale. This style of beer originates from fourteenth century Bavarian monks, who brewed the nutrient-laden beer, a veritable "liquid-bread," to serve as their sole sustenance during the Lenten fast. There have been quite a few "Bockfests" that have sprung up during early March in reverence of this milestone in beer. Summit's very own spring seasonal Maibock is brewed in recognition as well.
Wilson embarked on his journey based on a wish to connect with history, and to experience firsthand some of the ancient Monk tradition. As for me, I started down my own path based solely on a whim. I was familiar with the history of bock beers and their role in Lenten fasts, but I was now emboldened by the fact that this mythical "beer fast" had just been replicated - I now knew that it could be done. Taking it a step further, I started convincing myself that I was an ideal candidate for a similar feat. I had some of the important parts down for sure: 1. I've long been interested in fasting and have engaged in a handful of 1-3 day fasts in the past. 2. As an employee of Summit, I certainly had easy access to the required beverage. 3. I'm pretty sure that I had unwittingly lived on beer alone for at least a week or so during my "Haight-Ashbury days." 4. Last but perhaps most importantly, I had just turned 30 at the time, and I was looking to "test" myself in some way. After thinking it all over, I decided that if this J. Wilson fellow could do it, "Why not me?"
This particular brainstorming session occurred during the last weekend of July 2011, so, rather impulsively, I decided that Monday, August 1st was a perfect starting point. When it came to ingesting nothing but beer, I might as well roll up my sleeves and get to 'er. Now that I had a half-cocked idea and a starting point, I needed an idea of how long I would take this beer fast. As I looked down at the Silver Anniversary Ale in my hand, 25 days suddenly seemed like a real no-brainer. It would be my little tribute in salute to Summit's 25th Anniversary. Twenty-five days also made for an easier sell on my wife, because I could always fall back on the fact that Wilson had endured his own fast for nearly twice as long with no real detriment to his health (I can't overstate how important this part was). Lastly, if this was going to be a real celebration of Summit, I decided that I would stick to only Summit beers, and water of course - I didn't want to die. All the pieces were falling into place.
I quietly began the fast that Monday. I decided to keep it somewhat quiet initially, sparing myself any embarrassment if I ended up failing miserably early on. I thought it would be best if I stayed true to the proven formula of bock beer, but now that it was August, Maibock season had long since run its course. Summit's Oktoberfest, the delicious, malty cousin to Maibock, was going to be my go-to brew. Grabbing that first Oktoberfest of the morning felt a bit strange, like I was still living in the dorms, but I quickly got over it and quite enjoyed my "breakfast." Making it through the rest of that first day was a struggle, I'll be honest. Resisting the urge to eat when hungry goes against all human instincts. I persevered by having a 'Fest every three hours, give or take. To further drown out the growing hunger pangs, I usually sandwiched my beer with a few glasses of water. This onslaught of liquid seemed to provide a sense of fullness, if only for a brief time. The last few hours of the day were a real grind, but I gritted my teeth and enjoyed an extra "midnight snack" beer before hitting the hay with a huge sense of accomplishment. Looking back on it now, surviving that first day was the key moment of the entire experience. Abstaining from food for a day really reinforced my sense of willpower. It also provided me with some personal insight. I realized that hunger was a passing sensation. If I didn't eat, life would go on. My body was going to adapt to work with whatever fuel I gave it, even if it was only Summits and water.
The second day wasn't easy by any stretch, but beer has a knack for putting a good face on most situations. This led to another profound realization: fasting without beer would have been exponentially more difficult and less fun. Anyway, by the end of that first week, I felt like I had really found my niche. Plus, I had gained a notch on my belt. One clear advantage I had over Wilson was the fact that I wasn't limiting myself to one style of beer. Oktoberfest had served me well, but craving some variation, I felt I should extend the menu to include the full palette of Summit's offerings. I tended to start each day with an Oatmeal Stout, but it was totally random after that. Just like most folk bring a dose of variety to their meals, I mixed things up by consistently switching Summit brews. Things were going smooth, and I felt like I had established a rhythm. As the third week was pressing on, my quest had become common knowledge around the brewery. Knowing I was closing in on the end (and at my wife's behest), I wanted to make sure I was taking in enough nutrients. The Summit brewers recommended beers with higher yeast contents. Thankfully, the season's last Hefe Weizen keg was still on tap, along with Sam Doniach's Honeymoon Saison, giving me two solid yeast-rich options to ride out the home stretch feeling energized. August 25, the end of the line, was an all-EPA day, capping my run with a tip of the hat to the beer that started it all.
Over the course of the 25 days, I averaged five beers a day, and I lost 22 pounds, which pretty much returned over time - bummer. On the plus side, since the beer fast, I now drink more water than ever, and have become more conscious of what I choose to fuel my body. And, obviously, my admiration and appreciation of Summit Beer has been taken to another level. To another 25 years!
-Tim "Numbers" McQ - Guest Blogger/Inventory Guru/Shipping Magnate
Comments/Questions/Angry Condemnations? Drop me a line. I can field any in-depth queries at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: I feel fortunate that, for me, hunger can be easily remedied and eating is a choice. I know that there are scores of people worldwide that don't have this luxury. In fact, part of the "mission statement" of my fast was to stop taking food for granted.
Also note that the brewery does not condone/sponsor/advocate/suggest/encourage beer fasts. As always, please be responsible when consuming alcohol!