Friday, September 4, 2015

Beer and Brute Strength

Midwest Masskrugstemmen Champion Ivars Balodis will tap Hofbrauhaus Cleveland's first keg of Oktoberfest to kick off the beer hall's monthlong Oktoberfeast celebrations, which starts Sept. 4 and runs every weekend through Oct. 4. Don't know what a masskrugstemmen champion is? Cleveland native Balodis explains.

Ivars Balodis (top) won the Chicago Masskrugstemmen contest with a time of 10 minutes 14 seconds.

It all started last Christmas. Andis Udris, president and CEO of Cincinnati Restaurant Group, which operates Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, is my cousin. Every year at Christmas, we have family over at my house for Christmas dinner and a get-together. Usually when guests come over they bring a bottle of wine, but since the Hofbrauhaus opened up last year, he brings a keg of the Hofbrauhaus beer. … So the evening progresses, and after dinner we’re sitting around talking about the Hofbrauhaus, and he brings up this beer stein-holding event.

I’m 6-foot-5, 350 pounds, I’m a pretty big ex-athlete. So I’m like, how hard can that be? He’s telling me how the average time is anywhere between 3 and 7 minutes that people can hold it. From what I’ve learned in the last few months, it’s a little harder than what you think, holding a 5 1/2-pound beer in your hand.

You’ve gotta hold it by the handle, and you can’t wrap your hand around the mug itself, it’s got to be just around the handle itself. You hold it straight out in front of you parallel to the floor. It’s got to maintain being parallel with the floor. When you start shaking you can’t spill any beer, because after awhile your arm starts getting tired and your hand starts to shake a little and the beer starts splashing around in there. If it spills, you’re out. You’ll get two warnings from the judges if your arm’s down. They’ll say, “Lift your arm up,” or “Put your arm down,” if you try to hold it up too high. After two warnings if you do it again, you’re done.

So we’re sitting at the dining room table and I’m sitting there holding the [beer stein] out, and [Udris] goes, “If you can go five minutes, you can be in the competition.” I went 9 1/2 minutes. He was thoroughly shocked.

Fast-forward a couple of months to when Cleveland had the preliminary rounds. [Udris] called me and said, “We’re having the competition if you want to give it a try.” The wife wanted me to [do it], because the winner gets a free round-trip for two to Chicago, and then the winner of Chicago gets a free round-trip to New York City for the nationals. So she’s like, “You’re going and you’re going to win, and we’re going to Chicago and we’re going to New York. “

I had no idea what I was getting into. The preliminary round I won with a time of — I don’t even remember the first round. Basically, you just go until the second-to-last person drops. When you’re the last one standing, you win. For the Cleveland finals, I won with a time of 8 minutes and 44 seconds. So with that, I won a round-trip ticket for two [the first week of August] to Chicago and free hotel for the finals.

My wife was texting. We had 50 friends and family that showed up to cheer me on. For the Chicago trip, we had almost 25 people who drove from Cleveland to Chicago to root me on. So it turned into a nice weekend getaway. With winning Chicago, we go to the national Masskrugstemmen championships in New York City in Central Park, which is Sept. 19.

I haven’t trained for it, so I’m going to say it’s brute strength. Other than lifting a couple of beers on the weekend.

I’m a 49-year-old information technology consultant that sits on his butt all day long. I played high school and college football for Ashland University, and I was in the Marine Corps, so that helped [with] discipline.

It’s just a matter of channeling the pain. In Cleveland, I was just focusing on the basketball game on the TV. It was a Cavs playoff game, and I was focusing on that to keep my mind off of it. Same thing in Chicago: There were TVs in the back, and I was focusing on that to channel the pain out of my shoulder. For me that’s where the pain is, just in my shoulder.   — as told to Laura Adiletta

Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, 1550 Chester Ave., Cleveland,

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