MEET THE STEIN-HOLDING CHAMP

“I wish I could say I had a strategy,” says Josh Wickstrom, Astoria’s newly crowned stein-holding champion. 

The first-timer swears he was just winging it.

Still, during Saturday night’s final round at Buoy Beer Co.’s Oktoberfest, Wickstrom (pictured at right in the photo above) certainly seemed to be trying to psyche out his hulking rival. 

With his free hand casually inserted in his front pants pocket, he smiled serenely while making friendly eye contact with the Bunyan-esque challenger. 

About 4 minutes in, the bigger man’s hand began shaking, straining under the 5-pound weight of a glass stein filled with beer.

The judge bounced between the men, urging both to “watch your elbow.”

The rules of competitive stein-holding are simple enough: Hold the one-liter stein with your arm extended straight and parallel to the ground, with no bending at the elbows. Spill any beer and you’re out. No switching of hands allowed.

While serious stein-holders do various exercises to build up their shoulders and upper chest muscles, Wickstrom says he didn’t take it that seriously.

A few days before the competition, he held out a 5-pound dumbbell at home while his wife Nicki checked the time. He lasted over 4 minutes, filling him with confidence. At least he wouldn’t embarrass himself.

Festbier was served at Buoy Beer’s Oktoberfest.

On Saturday night, inside a cavernous Astoria Armory building converted into a German beer hall, the 42-year-old Wickstrom showed no outward signs of distress, cruising through the preliminary round. 

During the final, he just kept smiling and sneaking peeks at the admiring crowd, which included Nicki and their 15-year-old son Sean.

The challenger finally surrendered, saluting Wickstrom before taking a gulp of Festbier. The champ kept going a while longer, ultimately recording a winning time of 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

After shaking hands with the runner-up, Wickstrom literally jumped in the air.

“I’m a little bouncy sometimes,” he says with a laugh. “I was pretty excited.”

Sean, the teen, sums up his reaction to his father’s sudsy triumph as “surprised.” A few seconds later, he adds: “And proud.”

Wickstrom, who lives in Astoria, works at an elementary school as an instructional assistant. He’d never lifted a beer stein competitively before, but he works out with weights several days a week to “stay healthy.”

Nicki read about the competition online and urged her husband to sign up. “Josh, check this out,” she said. “You should do this.”

It proved to be well worth the effort.

Buoy gave the champ a $100 gift card and one-year membership in its beer club, but the best prize may be having his name on a plaque to be hung in the brewery’s downtown taproom.

Stein-holding originated in Bavaria, where it’s a traditional feat of strength known as masskrugstemmen. With craft beer Oktoberfests gaining in popularity in America, the entertaining contests are now being held pretty much everywhere.

The American men’s record is an astonishing 21 minutes,17 seconds set in 2018, and the women’s mark is 6 minutes, 10 seconds, according to the U.S. Steinholding Association. (Yes, there’s an official organization).

The association’s website doesn’t mince words about the physical strain involved. It calls such competitions a “miserable hellhole.”

Wickstrom doesn’t look at it that way. Not at all.

“It was a really fun time,” he says.

Prost!

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