Strength, stamina and suds: Tempe Brewery embraces Bavarian tradition of steinholding for Oktoberfest

Steinholding is a traditional Bavarian strength contest that requires a competitor to hold a liter beer stein out in front of themselves with a straight arm for as long as possible. (Photo by Lucas Gordon/Cronkite News)

Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe hosts steinholding competitions every September, dating back to 2020. After two weeks of qualifying rounds, top competitors compete in the brewery’s Oktoberfest celebration with a chance to win a trip to Munich, Germany. (Photo by Lucas Gordon/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – On a typical Thursday night in the middle of September, sports fans scurry to bars to get their weekend started with their first glimpse of football for the next three days.

The tradition continued when patrons packed into Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings Thursday Night Football matchup last Thursday.

Around 5:30 p.m., just as the NFL game kicked off, the bar awoke as customers started cheering, booing and getting refills of the drinks they were quickly consuming.

The focus for the fans was not on the numerous TVs placed around the restaurant, but instead on the group of men holding liters of beers out in front of their bodies. Many of the customers were getting their first looks at the traditional Bavarian competition of steinholding.

At its core, the purpose of steinholding is to see how long a person can hold a glass stein full of beer. Contestants must have a straight arm and can’t lean backward while competing.

To commemorate the German celebration of Oktoberfest, Four Peaks hosts the annual competition of strength, endurance and beer.

“This is just a fun, basic, utilitarian event that really just embodies the spirit of Oktoberfest,” said Troy Honaker, Four Peaks’ digital content director.

Nicole Gudgell is a two-time winner of the Four Peaks’ steinholding contest. A cat-related injury spoiled her chances of winning the state competition in 2021. (Photo by <a href="" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Lucas Gordon</a>/Cronkite News)

Nicole Gudgell is a two-time winner of the Four Peaks’ steinholding contest. A cat-related injury spoiled her chances of winning the state competition in 2021. (Photo by Lucas Gordon/Cronkite News)

Four Peaks has been fielding steinholding competitions since 2020. It was first held as a promotion for the bar’s Oktoberfest celebration held at Tempe Town Beach Park and it has now grown into something larger.

Three years into the tradition, competitions are held over multiple days and across all Four Peaks locations in Arizona.

“We tap out at 60 sign-ups per event day and we usually get close to that. We try to get 30 men and 30 women to compete,” Honaker said. “On a good day we get near 60 people, but we’re usually near 40 or a little bit lower.”

While it is a competitive sport, the people participating at Four Peaks are there for a good time. More likely than not, people are competing for the first time.

Matt Wszalek was told by his uncle that he should pay the $8 fee to join the steinholding contest at the brewery. With minimal practice, but the motivation to win, Wszalek held his stein for five minutes, seven seconds, which was the best time of the night.

“Anytime there is a feat of strength and stamina, sign me up. I also love beer,” Wszalek said. “This was my first time out here. I probably should have practiced before, but I don’t know how many of us actually practiced.”

Wszalek not only took home the win, but a battle scar as well. When he first let go of the handle, Wszalek was left with a large red outline of where he was holding the stein.

Despite the pain, Wszalek knew he had to get the victory for his uncle.

“I knew when it got tough I had to think of my uncle. I had to use him for inspiration because I knew that he would hold this stein for days,” Wszalek said. “All I needed was five minutes. Easy.”

Now Wzsalek will be invited to compete at Four Peaks’ Oktoberfest steinholding contest Oct. 15 for the title of best steinholder. He will have the opportunity to win the grand prize of a $500 Visa or Four Peaks gift card.

Man holds beer pint

Competing in his first steinholding contest at Four Peaks in Tempe, Matt Wszalek wins the first heat of the day by holding his stein up for five minutes, and seven seconds. (Photo by Lucas Gordon/Cronkite News)

Steinholding was created in the beer halls of Munich, Germany, as a way to settle arguments or to see who was the toughest person in the case of a dispute.

Like many other traditions around the United States, steinholding came over with German immigrants. Hofbrauhaus, which is a famous German brewery, is the largest representative of steinholding in America.

Hofbrauhaus has been holding steinholding competitions at its locations since the 1990s. The winner of each competition gets invited to be a part of Hofbrauhaus’ national competition at Central Park in New York.

Competing in these competitions is how Jim Banko got involved with steinholding. Banko is the commissioner of the U.S Steinholding Association, which he established in 2015.

“I came into the sport by accident,” Banko said. “In 2011, I was at the Hofbrauhaus in Pittsburgh on a night they were doing the competition and decided to compete. I came in second place and was invited back to compete again in their finals.”

After finishing in fourth place at the national event, Banko realized that steinholding could be one of the only things where he could become a national champion. With that mindset, Banko started training and ultimately reached his goal.

“In 2015 I won the Hofbrau national championship and set the United States record at the time at 17 minutes and 11 seconds,” Banko said.

Banko’s time has since been beaten. The current world record is 21 minutes and 17 seconds.

National champions are not allowed to compete again once they win. With that being said, Banko is now in his post-competition days and is taking the time to grow the sport of steinholding.

His first order of business as commissioner of the U.S. Steinholding Association was creating a map of places to compete. Since then, the association has drafted a universal set of rules, offered training tips and found more bars to host events.

The next venture for the association is setting up state and national competitions. The U.S. Steinholding Association currently sanctions state championships in 11 states.

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Arizona was one of the original four states to hold statewide competition but has since dropped out. Banko could not comment on why Arizona no longer holds a state competition.

“It has been hard to manage everything, especially with the introduction of state competitions. In 2021, we had time to think things through so we launched four state championships in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut and Arizona,” Banko said.

“We wanted to start off small with four states and we added four more the next year. The ultimate goal is to have enough states to have a national competition.”

Although most of the country still has not heard of steinholding, the sport is starting to gain some recognition.

Over the summer, the Ohio state competition was featured on ESPN 8: The Ocho. Clips posted on ESPN’s social media accounts from the broadcast have garnered over four million views, according to Banko.

As bars around Arizona and the rest of the country prepare for Oktoberfest, steinholding events are becoming more popular.

“We just keep trying to grow every year. It has grown big enough and there’s enough interest where I can’t do everything anymore,” Banko said.

(Video by Evan Rieser/Cronkite News)
Lucas Gordon LOO-kiss GORE-din
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Lucas Gordon expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business and digital audiences. Gordon has interned at The Arizona Republic.

Evan Rieser(he/him/his)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Evan Rieser expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in film production. Rieser has interned for WBCB 1490 in Philadelphia and done freelance work for the Varsity Sports Show.