Drinks

Flex those beer muscles at Oktoberfest stein-holding competitions

Sep. 20, 2013 at 10:21 AM ET

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the U.S. National Masskrugstemmen Championship
Previous competitors battle for the win at the National Masskrugstemmen Championship.

It's Oktoberfest, time to gather with friends, raise your steins full of German beer and…hold them out in front of you for as long as you can. At least that's what they’ll be doing this weekend in New York City’s Central Park, where the fifth annual Masskrugstemmen National Championship will be held.

Mass-what’s-that-now?

Masskrugstemmen is a Bavarian feat of strength and endurance where contestants hold a 1-liter stein of beer (which weighs about 5 pounds) out in front of them at shoulder level for as long as they can. No beer can be spilled, no elbows can be bent, and extended arms must be kept parallel to the ground. The winner is the person who can keep their stein aloft the longest.

The German word “masskrug” translates into a one-liter stein of beer, and “stemmen” means “lift.” Put them together and you have a pretty accurate description of what the competition is about.

So what does it feel like to play a round? “After a while it’s like holding a whole keg of beer!” Lenny Coyne, the head Judge for the National Masskrugstemmen Championship, told TODAY.com. “First, your arm starts feeling heavy; then the feeling goes down your back; then there is a lot of shaking going on!”

Coyne will preside over this weekend’s national championship, which is part of the 56th annual German-American Steuben Parade of New York. Most of this year’s contestants have won regional competitions held in restaurants across the country where Hofbräu beer (the event’s sponsor) is sold. They will be vying for the grand prize of a trip for two to Germany and a private dinner at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich. 

Video: To celebrate Oktoberfest, people take part in the sport called masskrugstemmen where they are challenged to hold up a stein full of beer weighing more than five pounds. TODAY correspondents, anchors and staff battle it out on the plaza to see who’s the strongest.

Regardless of who wins, it promises to be a fun time. “The enthusiasm is very contagious,” said Coyne. “People who have never seen the contest before are a bit skeptical at first, but quickly become engulfed in the energy and enthusiasm!”

Coyne notes that while people of all shapes and sizes have successfully competed in friendly Masskrugstemmen competitions, the champions take it to the next level.

“There are people who train specifically for the contest, in order to make the National Title in Central Park and try to win the trip to Munich,” Coyne said, including last year’s champion Cody Bane, a rugby player from Texas. “I know that Cody trained for quite some time with gallon milk jugs filled with water – 1 in each hand!”

According to Coyne, the world record is “a matter of legend,” rumored to be a time of 20 minutes and 13 seconds set in Germany. He said the average person can hold a stein aloft for around four minutes.

If you think you have what it takes to be a Masskrugstemmen champion, it’s not too late to win fabulous prizes. Samuel Adams is holding it’s own series of stein-raising events at thousands of locations across the country. You can find a list of participating locations here.

Of course, like every other beer-fueled feat of strength and daring, you don’t need cheering crowds or prizes; you just need a couple of friends, 32.8 fluid ounces of beer and a mug big enough to hold it.

Here are a set of guidelines to follow if you want to try this at home, based on the Masskrugstemmen National Championship rules:

  • The masskrug is to be held with one arm (left or right), stretched out in front of the body (not sideways!), and completely parallel to the floor. Your thumb cannot be on top of handle. Opposite arm must be straight down not supporting your body in any way.
  • The stein must be held by the handle. It CANNOT be held through the handle hoop, or by the actual body of the stein.
  • There is no switching of hands once the competition has started.
  • If the arm holding the masskrug is not absolutely parallel to the floor, the contestant gets a warning – after two warnings, the contestant is disqualified.
  • Any spilling of beer is an automatic disqualification.

A do-it-yourself masskrugstemmen competition is probably best left to the outdoors, where spilled beer won't soak the carpet or leave the kitchen floor a sticky mess. 

And if you think all of this sounds like a waste of time, you’re missing the point. Meaningless feats of strength and endurance and beer go together like, umm, testosterone and competitiveness and alcohol.

They’re called “beer muscles” for a reason!

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.

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