Chris Schryer, with his key dietary partner. All photos via Facebook.
As a nice Jewish girl, I got to watch my practicing Christian friends give up goodies for Lent during my youth. It was usually the same no-chocolate-bad-food-or-soap-operas routine every year, and never was there a time when said friends—albeit only two, three maybe, on my very Jewish block—ever gave up food entirely, or decided to chug beer for meals. This Lent, Chris Schryer is doing both.
On Ash Wednesday, which fell on March 5 this year, Chris, a devout Anglican from Toronto, stopped eating all solid food and started up his new diet, which he expects to abide by until Palm Sunday—meaning he’ll be spending 40 days on an all beer diet. His meal plan includes a bottle of beer for breakfast, one for lunch, one as an afternoon snack, and an extra large bottle for dinner. Alongside pal and Brewmaster at Amsterdam Brewing Co. Iain McOustra, Chris created an oat-rich doppelbock (a stronger and sometimes darker remix on the Bavarian Bockbier, in case you don’t speak beer nerd), which he named Brewmaster’s Trithe, that has just enough nutritional value to keep him from dying on his journey towards a repentant, spiritual buzz.
Now that we’re halfway through Lent, I gave Chris a call to chat about his deep love of falafels and tacos, and what his beer-fueled crusade has affected his family and shitting habits. Here’s what he had to say:
VICE: You’ve been drinking only beer for 20 days straight. How has this affected your digestive system? If you’re not consuming solid food, are you shitting at all?
Chris Schryer: It’s funny because my doctor, and actually a variety of other people, were like, “You’re totally going to get constipated because you’re not getting any fibre!” Constipation isn’t the exact opposite of what happened, but it’s certainly not the case.
There’s a surprising amount of solid in beer, and apparently juice, to the extent that I do take a shit a couple times a day. I don’t eat meat, so I’m pretty regular as it is. Particularly midday and later, shall we say, it’s not as solid as it would be because I’m consuming a ton of liquid.
So, is it straight up diarrhea by the middle of the day?
It nearly is. The difference being that I always think of diarrhea being you’re going every five minutes, you gotta go, you gotta go now, it’s coming out whether you’re in a bathroom or not. This isn’t like that; it’s just when it comes out, it’s that consistency.
OK, thanks for the info. What other changes have you noticed in your body?
I’m losing weight. I intentionally didn’t weigh myself and make weight an issue about this, because the focus for me is much more about the fast. But I definitely need a belt now, so I probably dropped three or four centimeters off my waist in 20 days.
Have there been any changes to your skin, or with parts of your body that you didn’t expect?
Yeah, you know what, I got a zit! I haven’t had a zit in like, ten years. The skin on my elbows is a little eczema-y, which is normal because I’m not getting any fat. Skin irritation is a real possibility so I’ve gotten a bit of that, but other than that everything’s pretty well normal.
What kind of changes have you noticed in your energy? You play hockey and managed to finish your season while doing this fast...
I think you take for granted the value of complex carbohydrates until you don’t have any. The first Friday that I played hockey during the fast I was excited, like I’m always jazzed to play hockey, and on top of that I was like, man, I can play! I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to play or not, but I can play!
I went out, did the warm up, and I was rippin’ around the ice on my first two shifts. My third shift, I got out, and my legs were just like lead. I didn’t have any stamina. I was pulling 25 or 30 second shifts at some points. That was the first two weeks. The third week I went in with my head up. I was just guzzling Gatorade on the bench, just trying to keep my energy level up, but I played some of the best hockey I played all season; scored a couple of goals, had an amazing assist with a couple of buddies, it was really good.
What emotional changes have you noticed in yourself since starting the fast?
A big part of this for me is the actual spiritual discipline I get from this sort of pursuit. It requires a lot of self-control. The Christian angle on that is that a lot of that is depending on your community, your family, the people around you. Also depending on God, literally supernatural support. But it’s also about taking ownership for your own behavior. That’s been working, and I’ve been feeling good about it. I’ve been made aware of other parts of my life where I just don’t have the right level of self-control, and been trying to expand it to that. It’s kind of hippie stuff but I feel really positive about that, like it feels really good.
Wow. When I’m hungry, I’m a giant bitch. It’s interesting that your prolonged hunger has not always led to irritability.
I think my natural tendency is still there, but I’m more aware of it, and I’m catching it. Because I’m making such an effort to be so spiritual and holy, I guess that makes it a bit easier, too. But definitely, when I’m hungry, when I haven’t had enough juice or whatever, I’m pretty moody. And then my wife makes fun of me because at mealtime, my kids are kids and they mess around a lot but I’m like, “Eat your food. Eat it! It’s delicious and you can! Just eat your FOOD!”
What do you hope your kids think when they grow up one day and learn about the time that their dad gave up food and chugged beers for meals during Lent?
My daughter’s only two so she probably won’t have any memory of this, but she’s super cute and helps in ways that are adorable and ridiculous.
My boy, Ben, is five. He’s very aware of the fast and talks about it. He told me on the first day he was going to fast from unhealthy food for Lent. That lasted until dessert. But he was aware of the concept and why I was doing it, and he talks to me about it a lot. What I want my kids to understand is that this thing, this faith that we have, it isn’t something you do and then put away. It permeates your whole existence.
Right. So what did your wife say when you told her you were going to give up food in favour of beer for Lent?
[Laughs] You have to understand the dynamic of our relationship. She just kind of laughed and rolled her eyes. She’s been completely supportive of it. Initially, she had some difficulty because she would feel guilty when she was eating because I was there. We really value family meal time, we eat with our kids every meal. When she got over that, there’s been no problems. She did think it was kind of stupid though [Laughs].
You still cook for your family. What’s the one time you’ve been most tempted to cheat from your all-beer diet?
We were having tacos the other night… my wife and I are both self-employed, but she works out of the house and she works some off hours sometimes, so she was out during this particular dinner. The kids and I were eating and neither of them ate all their food and it was looking.
I got up to clear the table and I was walking into the kitchen, I set the plates down, and I think I stood there for 15 seconds, literally. I said “Ben! I need you!” to my son, and he came in and he’s like, “What, daddy?” and I’m like, “I just need you to stand here while I scrape these plates into the garbage, OK?” So I did it and he was like, “Why did I need to be here, daddy?” And I’m like, “Because daddy was really, really close to eating one of the tacos. I really needed you to come and support me, buddy.” So he’s like, “OK, I’ll always watch you when you’re in the kitchen.”
One of my classics is after hockey or if I’m at the bar late—I’m trying to limit how much I’m at the bar—but I love stopping for a falafel or a burrito on the way home. If you’ve got a couple of drinks in you it’s a little harder to stay true. I haven’t broken fast yet, but it’s been tough. I was coming home one night with some buddies and they didn’t even want a falafel, but I made them go in. I was like: “No, you’re fucking eating a falafel because it’s delicious!”
They sure are. So, how has consuming beer rather than meals contributed to your spiritual growth?
There have been times that I’ve been very, very aware that this beer, which I assisted in making, is made entirely out of stuff that was given to us, and that it is a blessing. This is a blessed substance that has been given for me to be able to undertake this.
When I feel hungry I stop and I pray, or I stop and I try and bless someone. When my priest came and she blessed the beer, she read from the Psalms. It talks about how the Lord provides grain and fills the hills with golden grain, and it’s totally true. This is something that’s God-given.
You helped to brew a doppelbock, because it has the nutrients required to stop you from starving. What would have been your beer of choice if all beers had the same nutrient factor as a doppelbock?
I’d take a rock solid American pale ale. I like Sierra Nevada pale, or up here in Ontario we have this brewery called Great Lakes and they make a beer called Crazy Canuck, which is just magic. Or the brewery that brewed my beer, Amsterdam Brewing Co., does pale ale but not American-style pale ale, that’s still light enough in alcohol, you’re only talking five, maybe five and a half percent, but it’s got a big, huge shot of aroma hop. That really West Coast piney, kind of squeaky, almost citrus-y kind of hop, or maybe something like Mosaic that gets a lot of the tropical fruit. I just love that big, fresh, pungent, aromatic IPA. IPA would be a bit higher in alcohol and I’d stay away from that, but American pale ale would just be phenomenal.
What percentage of alcohol is Brewmaster’s Trithe, the beer you’re drinking during the fast?
We don’t know specifically. The recipe is projecting it to be in the mid-sevens, somewhere around seven-five. But we didn’t take a reading and we’re pretty sure it’s higher than that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pushing eight?
So I bet you feel pretty drunk right now, huh?
I have a pretty high tolerance, to the point where I have to be careful because I still have to do things like drive and pick up my son from school. I could be completely comfortable behind the wheel and still possibly blow over the legal limit. From a breakfast beer, a lunch beer, I’ve never even felt buzzed. I drink a 650 ml bottle at dinner and I’ll drink it from dinner through to the evening, and I certainly wouldn’t drive after that. Sometimes I’m starting to feel a bit of a beer buzz coming on. It’s very, very thick, like literally thick because of the oats in it, so it’s actually difficult to drink quickly.
Are you sick of drinking such a thick beer?
I haven’t gotten sick of it, which has been great, and it was a real concern. I’m not going to be really cheesy and say that I taste something different every time I drink it, but certainly the more that I’ve drank it, the more I’ve gotten to know it. I’m finding out new things about it, I’m picking out different tastes.
The only thing you can even come close to calling a negative is when I’m not aware of how thick it is anymore. Sometimes I’ll share a little with somebody, and they’re like, “Whoa! That’s thick,” and I’m like, “Yeah, it is thick.” I always forget that. It’s syrup-y.
Your family doctor is monitoring this process. I can’t imagine he’s stoked...
His medical opinion is I am doing something dumb and I shouldn’t be. But he also has patients who smoke, and patients who eat endless fast food. We kind of came to terms on that. He was adamant that I take a multivitamin.
He is a fairly devout Jew and does understand the practice of fasting. When I first went in to talk to him he hadn’t shaved in a couple months because his mother passed away, and I said, “Well, you’re doing something silly, too!” although he pointed out that it wasn’t affecting him physically [laughs].