The first time I ever heard of stein-holding competitions—a bunch of people hold a full stein of beer out in front of them; last one to drop wins—was about a decade ago. The commodified concept of the biergarten was still young in America, and one had just opened in Albany. As a way of celebrating, the owner closed the street the bar was on and held a blowout Oktoberfest, complete with beer trucks, hewn wooden drinking tokens, lederhosen, dirndls, a turtle race, and a stein-holding competition.
Since then, I’ve always wanted to participate in one but never been in quite the right time or place (or, I guess, done the right amount of planning). But when a few of you sent me a couple of Sophia Agostinelli’s viral stein-holding TikToks with millions of views this past week, the fire was ignited anew.
Sophia is a relatively new athlete in the stein-holding space but an experienced athlete in general (ice hockey, rugby), and she has incredible arms. Since we love aspiration around here, in today’s Link Letter (Lunk Letter?), I tracked her down to talk about her year-round training, the literal German word for “muscle soreness,” and men requesting “uppies.”
How did you get into stein holding?
I lived in Germany after college and then after coming back to the U.S. found out about the Oktoberfests that towns and breweries hold. It was at Counterweight Brewery two years ago that I signed up for my first stein-holding competition. Before then, I had never even heard of it. Not at the festivals growing up, not in Germany, never before!
They allowed us to drink our beers after the competition, which not all places allow. But the competition was held only 30 minutes before closing, and it was a challenge for me and all my friends to finish our liters before they turned off the lights.
How many competitions do you do each season, and/or how many have you done altogether at this point?
I am a bit over the top about this, but I make Google spreadsheets of all the Oktoberfests in the state. I try to go to as many as my schedule allows. If there’s a stein-holding at the event, I will sign up for it. Actually, if there’s any event, I will sign up for it. Some other events I’ve done include yodel competitions, dance-offs, and weiner tossing (which involves partners passing a bratwurst using two buckets). Some events that I have heard of but haven’t done yet and would like to are German spelling bees, sausage-eating competitions, and log sawing.
I have probably done around 10 stein-holding competitions, but it’s only because I’ve just started in the past two years. I would love to do more.
What’s the best prize you’ve won?
Two Roads Brewery is the location of the state stein-holding championship [here’s Sophia winning it]. The prizes included two one-year brewery memberships that give you perks at the brewery, two tickets to any Two Roads events, and two tickets to the Sound on Sound festival.
Have you ever lost?
I have never lost an official stein-holding competition, but I almost lost in the first few seconds of one recently from readjusting my grip, which almost caused my beer to splash out (an instant DQ). I have yet to compete at nationals, though, and I bet there will be some tough competition there that may give me a run for my money.
Have you ever/do you ever compete against men? Won or lost?
I have competed against men. Some of the breweries that do Oktoberfests have stein-holding that is open to all, so men and women are up there holding. I usually outlast at least a couple of men.
I saw that you also play ice hockey and rugby. How do you feel like those sports prepare you for stein-holding, if at all?
Yes, I play both! I believe both sports have lent me the upper body strength to compete. Especially rugby, as one of the favorite moves that I use to fend off players is the stiff arm.
How do you train? Take me through it all—what are both your on- and off-seasons like? (I mean specifically for stein-holding, but I’m interested in general training too!)
I work out every day. Between CrossFit, multiple adult league hockey teams, and rugby, I am usually always in a state of perpetual soreness (and Muskelaufbauphase or “muscle building”; learned that one from my German peers).
Specifically for the stein-holding, I checked with my CrossFit coach for ideas on how to work on the muscles specific to that task. She advised using resistance bands and doing isometric exercises to build upper body strength.
The “on-season” for stein-holding is September-October, and that looks like holding steins in competitions every weekend and taking it easy on upper body during the week. The off-season is for training, building endurance, and getting ready for the next season of stein-holding. I don’t believe I have reached my peak duration yet, so I will be putting in the work this upcoming off-season.
Do you train to compete with both arms, and do you compete with both arms (or have you ever competed with your off hand for any reason)?
I train and compete with both arms. Since it’s not much of a dexterity sport, I haven’t noticed a significant difference between the two arms.
If you will pardon my noticing, your arms are quite long! Do you ever feel like this is a disadvantage?
Good point! I usually am the tallest there, but I like to think that I have the advantage of being active and working out a lot, which probably makes more of a difference. I think having a strong core, arm muscles, and grip strength matter the most. The mental game gives you a slight edge as well. If you are used to competing, you might be able to push through an extra 10 to 20 seconds of pain.
What’s the weirdest thing you remember someone saying to you online about your stein-holding (or anything else)?
The “uppies” comments by men always get a laugh out of me. Funny enough, I have been picking up men [literally] as a party trick since I was about 12.
What advice would you give to our young aspiring stein-holders out there?
My advice would be to sign up even if you haven’t trained. There’s always a chance you may win. The more you sign up for, the more comfortable you feel and the more able to hone whatever technique works for you.
What’s your favorite beer to drink?
Currently my favorite beers are sours. My favorite German style, though, is Hefeweizen. I once had a Hefe in Germany with banana juice in it, and it was really good, almost like a smoothie. I highly recommend giving it a try.
A blessed stein-holding season and Muskelaufbauphase to us all!!
This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and length.
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