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Chicago Bar Owner Gives up Food, Subsists on Beer for Lent

For 40 days, Pat Berger of Paddy Long’s will consume only beer, coffee, and water in a nod to a strict order of 17th century monks.

Berger behind the tap   Photo: Courtesy of Paddy Long's

When I sat down last week with Pat Berger, owner of bacon-and-beer destinations Paddy Long’s and Kaiser Tiger, he hadn’t had anything to eat for 14 days.

He had, however, had about 60 beers since then.

Berger announced last week that he was undertaking a Lenten effort — 40 days of no food and only beer — in the spirit of Bavarian monks in the early 1600s. He adjusted the dates to fit his schedule, so even though Lent only began last Wednesday, he’s already weeks in.

“I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is going to be… misery involved in this,” he says over doppelbocks, the style of beer the monks at the Neudeck ob der Au cloister brewed to sustain themselves over their 40-day fast. More on this specific beer, brewed by Great Central Brewing Company, later, but suffice to say the fastenbock we’re sipping is a delicious, crisp 7.1 percent ABV beer. One could see it sustaining you for a while.

“If there wasn’t misery, these monks wouldn’t have done it, since that’s what they were after,” Berger says.

Four hundred–some-odd years after the tradition began, Berger allows himself about four of these beers per day — plus coffee, tea, water, and vitamins. We sat down last week to get the story behind his endeavor.

When did you first hear about someone attempting this?

I first heard the legend of the Paulaner monks about 25 years ago. It caught my attention and I thought, “That sounds like fun. That’s a Lent I’d like to do.” I never thought that it was A, true, or B, humanly possible.

I told my friends about it and said, “I could do that.” And they’re all like, “No fucking way.” But I kept talking about it and it seemed more and more possible. Two or three months ago, I was determined to do it. So I set the dates to fit it into my schedule since I couldn’t do it over the exact dates of Lent. And here I am.

Is there any religious aspect to this for you?

I was raised very hardcore Catholic, and you can’t shake it as much as you try. While I gave up the Catholic Church many years ago, I didn’t give up the traditions. I celebrate Easter. I celebrate Christmas. I always give up something for Lent. I just like the idea of it: Denying yourself something is hard, but every time you do it, it’s worthwhile.

You consulted a couple of doctors. What was their response?

They’re friends of mine. The big warning they gave me was about thiamine, because there’s zero in beer and you need that on a daily basis. Vitamin C is also a big thing. It’s not present in most beers but it helps your immune system, and I didn’t want to get sick.

You commissioned a special beer for this. Tell me about the Great Central Doppelbock made for you.

I did a little arm twisting. They don’t do collaborations, and they’re a contract brewery, mostly. [But] they do hang out here a lot, and the equipment is second to none. I’m into really precise, clean beers and I knew they would knock it out of the park.

When I said what I was doing, [brewmaster] Andreas [Miller] was like, “I want fucking no part of that, man. You’re gonna kill yourself.” But once I explained it to him, finally Andreas was like, “What kind of beer do you want?” “I want a doppelbock.” He’s like, “Oh well, okay. Now we’re talking.”

In your post, you said you wanted to “challenge your mind and find new perspective on the human body.” Have you reached any levels of enlightenment yet?

A little bit, yeah. I can’t believe I haven’t eaten any solid food in 14 days without my jaw being wired shut. The second or third night, we had industry curling here — I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, but standing out there in the beer garden right by the exhaust from the kitchen was driving me crazy. But now I’m over that. I’m trying to just enjoy the smell of food without avoiding it or getting hungry. I just go, “Oh, that soup smells great” and then move on.

This is harder for you than the monks — they had strength in numbers, and no one at the abbey was probably cooking bacon. Have there been moments of weakness throughout this process thus far?

There have been a lot. Most are in the morning because I don’t have my first beer until noon. I was a big coffee drinker. I’d have three cups before I got here, and around day three, I got halfway through a second cup and I was flying off the wall. Now, I drink maybe half a cup here and none at home. I’ve had a few days when I’ve skipped coffee all together, which hasn’t happened in years. I was also a big breakfast guy. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. You know, bacon.

I’m also drinking in much more moderation than I’m used to. I had a very high tolerance and I never really needed to count my beers. That tolerance is gone. I feel something after one drink, and I have to let that wear off for at least an hour before I have another one.

You’re also sticking to this type of darker lager. Is that going to continue after the 40-day window?

It’s actually the opposite. I got in a bad place with craft beer in the last year. It’s my job to taste sometimes 25 beers in a week; everyone is trying to stand out, and 90 percent of the time, it doesn’t work. So I kind of got burned out on craft beer. About a year ago, it became work to me.

When I was at my local bar and here, I only drank two beers and both of them were lagers: Pilsner Urquell and Stiegl Goldbrau. I know they’re made incredibly well, I know exactly what three or four of those do to me, which isn’t much. That’s what I’ve been drinking.

In some ways, this is opening me up because I am looking for other flavors. I’m finding myself craving hoppy beers for the first time in a long time. It’s opening me back up to other beer styles that I haven’t visited in a long time, mostly on the hoppy side.

What’s the first thing you want to eat after this is over?

I want protein really bad. I’d be scared to eat a steak right off the bat, but I would like a steak! Maybe a soft seven-minute egg, some sriracha, some salt. I think that is going to be the first meal.

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