According to popular lore, the doppelbock first came about in the 1600s when a group of Paulaner monks in Bavaria, Germany came up with an unorthodox aid for their Lenten fast. Although the entire monastery had sworn off solid foods for 40 days, they determined that this high-calorie, high-carbohydrate “liquid bread” was still somehow OK. Bear in mind, this was a period in time when beer was widely considered a hygienic alternative to water. Children would have consumed low-ABV small beers and Frühschoppen, a hearty breakfast of Weisswurst with a side of wheat ale, was the preferred start to the day.
“I wanted to see if it could be replicated in today's conditions with all that we deal with as a modern civilization,” says Del Hall, the 43-year-old director of sales at Fifty West Brewing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio who has pledged to consume nothing other than beer, water and the occasional black coffee for the entire 46-day period. His plan is to drink two to five beers a day, along with gallons of water to offset the diuretic effects of alcohol.
“I’m a practitioner of fasting anyway. I believe that the human body has evolved for times of feast and times of famine,” Hall says. “I think we should have times in our lives where we give it a rest and come to homeostasis.”
When Hall unveiled his plan on YouTube last week, he quickly made headlines. Most of the coverage thus far has treated the situation as an oddity, though some people have been more on board with the idea than others.
“They think I’m crazy,” Hall told a reporter at WRDW.
Is it crazy to try and survive that long without food? While it may not be medically advisable, there is decent evidence that it is at least possible. Mahatma Gandhi managed three weeks of complete caloric deprivation, and there have been other documented cases of political prisoners going for longer—albeit with a survival rate of less than 100 percent.
Although there have been studies (mostly on mice) that suggest that autophagy, or a kind of cellular regeneration that occurs with intermittent, short-term fasts, may offer some benefits, longer periods can lead to serious liver and kidney damage, particularly when combined with the less-than-salutary effects of alcohol. And extremists advocating for various forms of long-term food deprivation, like the scientifically bogus Breatharian movement, have resulted in multiple deaths over the years.
I’m an American. I like variety. I don’t eat the same thing every day and I don’t want to drink the same thing every day.”
Hall acknowledges that his doctor is not a fan of the stunt, but that she concluded he would not do any lasting harm to himself. At her insistence, he’s taking a daily multivitamin and undergoing a full medical examination with blood tests every 14 days. When I speak with him, he’s on day 10 and he sounds steady, although he is feeling the effects.
“I work for a brewery, so I have a high tolerance [for alcohol], but I feel it like I was in college,” Hall says. As of his most recent weigh-in, he’s down 20 pounds. He’s quick to point out that he is taking precautions not to harm himself or others. More than one beer without a designated driver or Uber is out of the question. He also has pointed out that he is not advocating a “beer fast diet” for anyone.
“I feel like I’m very in tune with myself,” Hall says. “I know my body. I know the signs of dehydration and low blood sugar. If there were anything outside of the norm, I absolutely would stop.”
It turns out Hall isn’t even the first person to attempt this. J. Wilson, a beer blogger, claims to have successfully completed a Lenten beer fast in 2011. He emerged at the end 25 pounds lighter, presumably due in part to drastic muscle mass loss after 46 days of negligible protein intake, but otherwise none the worse for wear.
While the idea of a monastic fast may be rooted in asceticism, Halls is trying to keep it from getting too monotonous. Although he’s gravitating toward heavier stouts, he’s varying his liquid diet as much as possible.
“I’m an American. I like variety. I don’t eat the same thing every day and I don’t want to drink the same thing every day,” Halls says. Deprivation also has its upsides, apparently. As anyone who has ever been on a diet will attest, not ingesting enough calories makes you hyper-aware of the ones you do consume.
“We make a stout with chocolate, maple syrup and almonds, and that’s what my palate can taste right now,” he says. “My senses are heightened. My senses are through the roof.”