Exclusive: Can Man Live By Beer Alone?

By Eric Sorensen

I’ve known Jay Wilson as an avid craft beer lover for awhile. He and his wife, Michelle, were the lone volunteers at our Farmhouse Ale Festival a year ago. While we were at the Festival of Iowa Beers, Jay told me about a book he was planning to write on the beer style Doppelbock and its history. As part of the research, he wanted to try and recreate a Lenten Fast like the Paulaner monks observed in the middle ages. He asked if I would be willing to brew the beer and provide him with enough to sustain him during Lent. I readily agreed and joked that no matter what, he was sure to have some sort of mind altering experience.

Last fall, we began exchanging emails, and Twitter and Facebook messages. After looking at one of Jay’s homebrew recipes, we agreed to use it as a model for our beer and we would scale up the recipe in order to brew enough for his fast.  In mid-December, we began tossing names back and forth. Illuminator was one of the first we both came up with.

Traditionally Doppelbock names end with –ator; Salvator, Celebrator, Optimator, etc.  Illumination is both something the monks hoped to gain by prayer, meditation, and study, but, it was also something they did when brightening the hand printed copies of the Bible with gold leaf and colorful illustrations.

On one of my trips to the Indianapolis Rock Bottom Breweries, I stopped by 3 Floyds Brewing Company and picked up a few bottles of The Creeper. I also brought along a bottle of Seeyoulator from Boulevard Brewing Company. I shared these with Jay to help us decide on the gravity and alcohol level of the brew we were planning. There are a number of great Doppelbocks out there, and the range is broader than in some of the other categories of beer. Jay didn’t want to exactly recreate the beer from five or six hundred years ago, and he also wanted to stear clear of an extreme version that wouldn’t make for a sustainable beverage. He wanted it to finish fairly sweet, and it had to be unfiltered to ensure it could provide all the nutrients he needed. For forty days, this was going to be his liquid bread. Unlike the monks of old, he would be able to drink water.

On January 27, Jay came to Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in West Des Moines, IA. He wanted to really be a part of the process, so while I sanitized the fermenters and pitched the yeast, he mashed in the grist. I had previously measured and milled the malt for the brew since I had scheduled another brew that day. Jay jumped right in after the mash of the Doppelbock to mill in the Porter that was brewed later. From then on, it was a standard brew day; vorlauf, run-off, measuring out hop additions, boil, whirlpool and cooling.

Illuminator was fermented using a lager strain that originated in southern Germany. After ten days of cool fermentation and two days of maturation, the temperature was lowered to 34°F to lager or cold age. It was moved to the cellar 14 days later to settle and condition for an additional 14 days before we tapped it on Fat Tuesday, March 8th.

The next day, Ash Wednesday, Jay began his fast, drinking four 12 ounce glasses of beer a day, with an additional glass on Saturday and Sunday. will provide and update on Jay’s fast shortly after the Easter holiday. Do you think Jay will make it then entire 40 days?

Eric SorensenEric Sorensen was a graduate student in anthropology & linguistics at UVA, when he developed a taste for craft beer. On a dare from his wife to find a career doing something he loved, he began brewing at Lost Coast Brewery. He attended UC Davis and the Siebel Institute. His resume includes founding partner of Eel River Brewing Co, brewer at Mad River Brewing Co., partner,mead, and winemaker at Golden Angels Cellars, and senior brewer at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, West Des Moines, Iowa. When not working he enjoys watching his four daughters play sports, metalsmithing, gardening and reading.