The first Lenten strong beer was brewed by Paulaner monks at Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Munich. The Paulaners had arrived in Munich from Italy in 1627. They began brewing beer for their own consumption shortly thereafter—exactly when is not clear. One of their most notable brews was the Doppelbock (literally “double bock”) and is a stronger and usually darker version of the Bavarian Bockbier. It is exceptionally malty, with very little bitterness. Standard Doppelbocks may have as much as 7% alcohol by volume. In the strongest versions (around 10 to 13%), you can actually taste the alcohol. The Paulaner monks were followers of St. Francis who derived their name from the Italian holy man’s hometown of Paola. They originally called their tonic “blessed father’s beer” and “holy oil of St. Francis,” before settling on the simpler Latin moniker for savior, “Salvator.” The name even remains today as the Paulaner brewery’s star starkbier, and as an homage, other strong beer brewers use the “-ator” suffix with their products.
Now this beer was brewed for one purpose, and that purpose was to sustain and nourish the monks all through out the Lenten Season. The Paulaners had sworn off solid foods for the 40 day fast. However, such a strong brew with such delightful qualities might be just a bit too much of an indulgence for Lent. So they decided to ask the Holy Father in Rome to see if they should continue the practice with a clear conscience. The Paulaners dispatched a cask of Lenten beer to Rome for the pope to try and to pass judgment. During its transport across the Alps and along the burning sun of Italy, unfortunately (or fortunately for the monks) the cask tossed and turned, and heated for several weeks—a classic condition for causing beer to turn sour and undrinkable. So when the Holy Father tasted the much-praised stuff from Munich, he found it (appropriately) disgusting. His decision: Because the brew was so vile, it was probably beneficial for the souls of the Munich monks to make and drink as much of it as they could. Therefore, he willingly gave the brewing of this new, allegedly rotten, beer style his blessing. (Little did he know how it actually tasted)
The Brew Thickens
In case you were wondering as to whether or not this is actually possible to live by brew alone, a man named J. Wilson attempted just that for 40 days in 2011. Wilson, the founder of Brewvana, decided to embark on this journey when he heard of the aforementioned legend. He went 46 days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter, only drinking beer and water. He kept a blog which you can read here at The Diary of a Part-time Monk. He talks about having to go to the bathroom a lot, and his spiritual journey. Now, although Wilson is not Catholic and did not convert to the Church, it is an extremely interesting read. To get a better idea of the project, here is a video introduction for the 46 day fast: