Caffeine, in the guise of chocolate, is my drug of choice.
Chocolate and I have a complicated relationship.
I gave up chocolate for Lent once.
My parish council asked me to never do that again. Sensibilities can be mended, but thrown hymnals can’t.
We've all heard the list before. Devout Catholics readying themselves for spiritual combat every year regularly giving up smoking, meat, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, beer, sodas, candy, cakes, sugar, Twittering, Facebooking, bullfighting or traveling by private jet for 40 days. And though literally everyone breaks their New Year's resolution on or around Jan. 3, I've not heard of a Catholic breaking their Lenten vows.
But, what if you could have your “cake” and eat it too?
Apparently, 700 years ago, in the fabled country of Germany, some Italian monks came up with a way to fulfill their Lenten fasts and otherwise mellow out.
But not just any beer mind you, good Christians. Rather, it's Bock Beer.
Bock is a beer so full of nutrients and calories that one can subsist upon a daily flagon of it for the entire 40 days of Lent.
As they say, candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.
You might say, “Angelo! You're surely pulling my leg!”
To which I would respond, “I’m being serious — and stop calling me Shirley.”
You might think this one comes under the category of, “The Vatican should really look into this!” But, oh yes! This is all perfectly in keeping with Catholic piety and tradition. Bock beer is once again on the menu for Lent, folks!
Italian monks, having built themselves a modest pied-à-terre in Einbeck, developed a dark, malty, high alcohol beer which they put to good use…God bless their souls.
“Bock” is a corruption of Einbeck.
The same monks, after waking from their stupor, decided to double down and created a beer with twice the alcohol content which they called Doppelbock. (i.e., "double Bock"). It's practically like eating brown bread, prompting them to call their heavenly brew, "liquid bread."
Again, after these monks woke once again from their stupor, they started wondering if Lent should be this much fun. So they packed up a barrel of this glorious brew and carted it off to Rome to ask the pope what he thought.
If you think you have a problem with vegetables remaining less than completely crisp in your refrigerator's "crisper," consider what a barrel of 13th century beer traveling 568 miles over rough country must have tasted like after three months.
The spoiled beer was said to be so putrid that the cardinals assigned to address the monk's question congratulated them on their excellent attempt at severe asceticism and the mortification of their flesh.
But, later, back at the monastery, Bock beer became an excellent way to spend one's Lent. This sweet, malty beer evolved over time into the modern doppelbock.
Bock beer is a rich, complex, malty, low-hop style of lager. Maibock or Helles are paler and more hoppy versions of bock.
Doppelbock is intensely malty and has a higher alcohol content than a single bock. It can have as little as 6-7% and as high as 13%. A beer's maltiness can be determined by what temperature it is mashed, reducing lautering, the use of certain grains, the use of specific yeasts, and other factors.
Triple bocks are available but they don’t contain an exponential percentage of maltiness and/or alcoholic strength. It simply just means there's a slight bit more kick to it.
A large bottle of Einbeck doppelbock contains about 1050 calories while a normal beer contains only 210 calories. The average adult man needs about 2000 calories a day to maintain good health. Thus, two beers should do you, as long as you're not a lightweight when it comes to strong beer.
The association of beer and Christianity is not completely without Catholic precedent. St. Arnold of Soissons was a career soldier who became a hermit and then forced to become an abbot and then a bishop.
His claim to fame is urging the people in his diocese to avoid drinking water during a cholera epidemic and instead, drinking beer saying it held the “gift of health.” The water boiled as part of the brewing process was free of pathogens and thus saved an entire city from death.
That's why St. Arnold of Soissons is the Patron of Brewers and those who like to hoist an occasional beer.
Around this time every year, we read about some devoutly foolish Catholic who — taking it upon himself to emulate these saintly, if not, completely blottoed, German monks — gives up all solid food and replaces it with Bock beer as part of his 40-day Lenten fast.
From reports of modern Catholics who've engaged in this otherwise delightful asceticism who ingest only Bock, water and a daily Host, they seem to lose a bit of weight but their hunger pangs are kept to a minimum. Perhaps feeling tipsy all day makes one forget one is slowly starving to death.
(For those in the Catholic know, the phenomenon of saints who subsist only on the Holy Eucharist is know as inedia prodigiosa.)
One excellent Bock beer comes from one of only eight Cistercian Trappist monasteries, which are approved to sell beer with the official Trappist label. The community's founder, St. Benedict of Nursia, insisted that his monks earn their keep and not overtax the local community in supporting them.
Six of these eight Trappist breweries are located in Belgium. La Trappe is the only monastery in the Netherlands.
Their Bock is called La Trappe Bockbier.
Located near the town of Tilburg, in the southwest of the Netherlands, the De Koningshoeven brewery which makes La Trappe is a 15-minute drive from the Belgian border and about 1 and ½ hours from Amsterdam.
Interestingly, this beer was the origin of the name of a red dwarf star around which seven newly discovered possibly terrestrial (i.e., rocky) planets orbit―Trappist-1. These planets are all located within the star's “Goldilock Zone”―neither too hot nor too cold… and juuuust right for the possible development of life.
Apparently, the astronomers were toasting their remarkable discovery with enormous amounts of La Trappe beer inspiring them to name the new star system.
Of course, it's necessary to pace your drinking otherwise you'll never be able to handle heavy machinery let alone hold an intelligent conversation about, say, Lenten fasts,
So if you're not a totally teetotaling Catholic and can function three sheets to the wind, perhaps an all-Bock Lenten fast is for you.
Spiritually speaking, I can imagine that if you drink enough beer, you might very well have a magnificent Lent.
It's too late to start a Bock Beerfest/Lenten observance this year but I hope to do so next year.
After all, the Lord loves a cheerful drinker.
It might very well improve my writing along with my mood. “Tune in next year—same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.”
Bock beer is relatively expensive so I might have to consider brewing my own to guarantee a sufficient 40-day supply. I'll have to make some more just in case my non-Catholic friends drop by and become interested in some alcoholic mortification. Bock might become the new evangelical tool.
Some Bocks to consider for next Lenten Season:
- Weltenburger Kloster Asam-Bock
- Salvator Doppel Bock
- La Trappe Bockbier
- Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel
- Weihenstephaner Korbinian
- Abita’s Mardi Gras Bock
- Arnold’s Spring Bock
- Josephs Brau Heller Bock (Trader Joe's Brewing Company)