CHICAGO — Can man survive on beer alone?
Inspired by the 17th century Paulaner monks, bar owner Patrick Berger is giving up solid food and attempting a beer-only fast for Lent.
On a slightly modified lenten schedule to accommodate a family vacation, Berger, a self-proclaimed beer geek and history buff, aims to forgo food for 40 days, surviving only on four beers a day, black coffee, water and vitamins.
“I’ve known about the beer fast for 20-plus years. I’ve always been fascinated by it and thought, ‘oh that would be great, I’d love to try that someday,’” said Berger, who co-owns Paddy Long’s, 1028 W. Diversey Pkwy. in Lakeview, and Kaiser Tiger, 1415 W. Randolph St. in the West Loop.
“Ever since I first heard the legend, it has beguiled me,” he wrote in a blog post detailing the fast.
But it wasn’t until Berger read about a Cincinnati man who completed the fast last year that he decided to attempt it himself.
Berger reckoned it might even be a “good thing” for him to do, given his “extra pounds and whatnot.”
Del Hall, director of sales at 50 West Brewing in Cincinnati, lost 44 pounds in 46 days on the beer-only fast. This year, he’s fasting for 50 days. Capitalizing on the attention he received last year, Hall is raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Southwest Ohio during this year’s fast.
He’s got a few tips to share with Berger as he starts his beer journey.
“Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, probably a gallon a day,” Hall said. “…It’s the first two weeks [that’s the hard part] and he’s over that hump.”
Berger said his wife and Kaiser Tiger’s general manager tried to coax him out of the fast before he began, fearing that a four-beer-a-day diet would leave him unable to complete daily tasks.
Since his wife figured out he’s “not drunk all the time” on the fast, “she’s been supportive,” Berger said. He gets a slight buzz after drinking a beer, but that’s it.
“I do have a lot of responsibilities at home and I can’t just dump them all on her. She has a job, too,” Berger said.
The fast has required a few lifestyle adjustments. He can’t have a few beers with co-workers or patrons at the bar. And he can’t sample new menu items at the bacon-and-sausage-heavy bars.
He’s shelved plans to add to Kaiser Tiger’s eats until the fast is over.
“We’re tabling that for April,” he said.
The hunger was hardest the first week, but grew easier to manage as the days stretched on, he said. The urge to eat hasn’t gone away entirely, especially because his job requires him to be surrounded by food.
“The first couple days I was avoiding it, but it’s impossible,” Berger said. “So when I smell something that smells really good, I’m trying to enjoy the smell of it. It’s just a mindf–k really, you know it’s just playing mind games with yourself.”
‘I did not tell my doctor’
In a blog post, Berger is asked if there are health risks associated with the fast.
“Probably,” he writes. “…I’m not an expert.”
At his last doctor’s visit, Berger told his doctor he typically drinks a few beers each day.
“She told me I needed to cut back, so I didn’t really feel encouraged to go to her with this diet,” he said. “I did not tell my doctor.’
He hasn’t consulted her about this specific diet. He has an appointment to see his doctor next week, and he’s not sure how she’ll react.
She can talk him out of it, he said, but she’ll have to bring the numbers.
“It would have to be something from the blood and urine work that said, ‘you need to stop doing this,’” he said. “I have three kids and a wife and two businesses.”
Some of Berger’s doctor friends have advised him his biggest concern should be dehydration. Drink plenty of water, they advised.
As of Saturday, Berger had lost 18 pounds in the 17 days he’s been on the fast, he said.
“I literally feel like I’m breathing better and just lighter on my feet. I’ve noticed the fat that was pressing up against my rib cage is gone, and I’m sleeping better,” he said.
Berger started drinking beer as a teenager, homebrewed his first brews in high school and worked in the craft beer industry before opening up his own bars. Tossing back four beers a day wasn’t out of the ordinary for him before his beer-only fast.
“I taste beer for a living, you know? I’m a certified beer judge…two times a week all the reps bring in their beers to my bar and we taste them,” he said. “I’ve been doing that for 14 years and as big of a craft beer enthusiast as I am, the last two years I’ve gotten a little burnt out on it.”
He’s cut out lighter pilsners during the fast in favor of full- bodied brews. Teaming up with Great Central Brewing, 221 N. Wood St. on the Near West Side, he created a German doppelbock that mimics the one the monk’s brewed a few centuries ago.
“It’s based on a beer style invented by the Paulaner Monks, it’s very close to what they would have been drinking during their lenten fast,” he said.
The beer is on tap at the brewery and Berger’s bars, but both he and Hall are not encouraging anyone else to try the fast.
“If you’re not a drinker, certainly don’t try it,” Berger said.
Hall said he and Berger share one thing in common that make them uniquely qualified for the fast. They drink beer for a living.
“We’re in the industry, it’s part of our job to have a beer or two, and you know, so it’s not frowned upon by our employers,” he said.
Hall encouraged Berger to slowly reintroduce solid foods when he comes off the liquid fast.
“You really have to be mindful of what you’re eating when you come off of a fast,” he said. Last year he transitioned from bone broth to guacamole to raw vegetables before going all-in on solid food again.
To break his fast, Berger is traveling to Belgium with his family and he plans to indulge.
“Like on Day One will I eat something solid? F–k yeah, for sure,” he said. “Not a steak, but I would like to.”
After Hall’s story went viral last year, making headlines in the United States and 50 other countries, he said he received a lot of comments from haters, he said.
“Don’t read the comments,” Hall advises Berger.
That won’t be a problem for Berger.
“As far as the rest of the world goes on the internet, I don’t give a s–t about them,” he said.