We're coming to the end of International Women's Month and we're about 6 months away away from the Oktoberfest in Central Park and Steuben Day Parade! We recently got to check in with Jennifer Kuklentz, the 2019 Hofbrau National Masskrugstemmen Women's Champion and current U.S. record holder (with an astounding time of 5 minutes, 34 seconds)! Jen shared her Steinholding story, what she's been up to since her victory, and what she has planned for the future.
USSA: Hey Jennifer! How did you get your start in Steinholding, and when did you first compete?
Jen: It was actually in the fall of 2017 through the Yuengling Oktoberfest 5K at the SteelStacks Bethlehem Oktoberfest a few years ago. We did the 5K and saw the Steinholding competition that they had at the Oktoberfest and wanted to give it a try. They were using two pitchers of beer, one in each hand at that time. So I won the competition there and started researching it and then I found the Hofbräu events and started competing with them. There weren't any options I could find locally to compete for Hofbräu. So NYC was the closest I could find and I went to Hofbräu Bierhaus NYC and qualified there. I competed at a couple local independent competitions along the way too so that was fun. And then for 2019, I competed at Brauhaus Schmitz in Philadelphia to get to the nationals.
USSA: It all worked out ok and you had a huge performance obviously, but you had a bit of a hectic day on the day of the 2019 National Championship, didn't you?
Jen: Yeah it was pretty crazy. We had already booked a vacation down to Key West for my husband Chris' 50th birthday and that went up to that Saturday. I didn't really sleep much the night before, maybe two or three hours since we had to get up super early to get to the airport to fly from Florida back to New York for the event that day. So I was running on adrenaline for the whole day.
It was really a surreal experience. You have all those people watching you and you've told everybody that you're going to be doing it, so there's definitely some pressure. During the championship, I was about three minutes into it and I started to shake all over and I looked out at my husband Chris in the audience and started shaking my head because I didn't think I was going to make it but the crowd were all going crazy and he was shouting "you can do it!" Then I just got hyper-focused in as much as I could and I don't know where I pulled it from, but I did it. Sierra [Krauskopf from Krause's Cafe in New Braunfels, Texas] was next to me and I was worried about her from the start because she's a strong competitor. When she went out I was so focused in that I didn't even know it and she was right next to me. At some point I leaned back and asked you how many others are still in it, and you said "Nobody. You won, you're trying to beat the record now!" I was like "what?!" haha. I just had blinders on, or tunnel vision or something. It was surreal and I was never in that kind of place before. It was intense and really awesome. Besides having kids and getting married, it was probably one of the best experiences of my life honestly.
USSA: Other than winning the national title and setting the new US record, what were some of the highlights of your trip to the finals in NYC?
Jen: Well the experience of winning was definitely the biggest thing. After it was over, I really did feel different. I felt like I had a glow and I felt bigger. It was also like your wedding day because everybody wants to talk to you and take a picture with you! Everybody was asking how did you did it, what did you do to train!? Everybody wanted to see the belt and touch it.
Meeting all of the people and competitors was great, making new friends. Just the whole experience was amazing. Where else will you get to ride a parade float down 5th Avenue in New York City?! I was talking to a couple of the guys who had competed before and they said that the secret is not to win haha. That way you get to keep going back and enjoying the event every year, since you can't compete at nationals again once you've won the national championship.
Other than the competition and the Oktoberfest in Central Park, we didn't do much. We had a bunch of friends that came to watch the competition so we got to spend the afternoon with them but then they were going back home that night. We went back to the hotel to change and then we were going to go to the after party with everybody at Bierhaus NYC but we got into the hotel and felt the air conditioning and just said to each other "wanna just go to bed?" Haha I feel bad about it now and I wish we would've gone, but we were just exhausted from the day so we didn't do too much. We did more sightseeing when we were in town for the 2018 championship.
USSA: Are you coming back for the National Championship weekend again this year?
Jen: Absolutely, I'm excited to come back and be a guest judge. I'll be able to enjoy it a little more this year without worrying about the competition. It won't be as crazy this time!
USSA: Have you claimed your prize and taken your victory trip to Munich yet?
Jen: Not yet. We're going to go over in October. We're expanding the trip since it's our 25th wedding anniversary. Hofbräu has been excellent to work with and very generous with accommodating our travel plans since we're trying to pop all over the place while we're over there. We're going to go to Stuttgart first and then go to Munich. We're going to rent a car and go off the beaten path and make our own plans to be flexible while we're over there.
USSA: You and 2019 men's champion Andrew Furman both represented Brauhaus Schmitz at the national championship. Have you guys run into each other since your victories?
Jen: Yeah we were just recently hanging out at the Philly Bierfest. He sent me a text that morning and said he had an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go meet up with them. We had a good time there, you would've liked it. They had a Steinholding event where you could walk up and give it a try, but it was a weird resin-filled stein and it weighed a ton. I did it for 3 minutes or so and then the lady running it told me to stop haha!
USSA: Has your community done anything to recognize and appreciate your victory?
Jen: Andrew and I were both invited to the Oktoberfest at the Armory that Brauhaus Schmitz hosts every year. Doug [the owner of Brauhaus Schmitz] invited us down to be the guests of honor and we brought our belts and everything. That was a great event, you should come down to the next one!
USSA: With all the publicity of your newfound celebrity, I'm sure people have been asking a lot of questions about Steinholding. Have you found someone who wants you to train them as your apprentice to be the next national champ?
Jen: Yeah, a friend of mine who's also named Jen is interested in getting into it more. She tried it out at Brauhaus Schmitz South Street festival and went two and a half minutes on her first attempt. She really likes beer and she's competitive so I told her that I've got tips and training information. I showed her the website and the training plans you have there. The son in law of some of our friends is also interested in giving it a try now. He said "I heard you're the champion! What is all of this about Steinholding?" So I'm passing information on to him too, to see where he can compete and try it out. He's young and I told him if he wants to put the effort in, he can be good at it.
USSA: What about competing some more yourself? If you were allowed to compete again in a national level competition, would you do it?
Jen: Definitely. I've continued to enter competitions whenever I see them around. I've started training again for more competitions this year. It's been so much fun with all of the people we've met through the sport. And sharing the sport with everybody i meet too. Are you guys running the Lehigh Valley Championship at SteelStacks again? It was great competing there. It was a really fun event and it was cool to see all of the breweries in the area that I hadn't heard of before and have everyone coming together at SteelStacks. But yes, I've definitely still got the itch and I love it and want to keep competing.
USSA: Oh yeah, we're definitely going to keep the Lehigh Valley program going. We'll be recruiting even more breweries and bars for the 2020 event to keep expanding it. We were really pleased with the turnout for last year's series and the SteelStacks/ArtsQuest people were really happy with how it turned out too. We were able to elevate the event into a bit of a spectacle for the finals and we're going to work with Sam Adams to make it even bigger this year.
Jen: Since I won the Lehigh Valley event at the SteelStacks, we're really excited to take the trip I won up to Sam Adams in Boston. We're going to go up for my birthday in May. They hooked us up and they've been great to work with. And I'll probably try to compete in one of the prelims again this year, although we'll be in Germany during the finals.
USSA: Would you share some of your training tips, exercises and/or techniques?
Jen: I started with looking at your training tips and training guide and I did a lot of the different exercises and the different holds. I did some other things too that I could do at work. I actually had a gallon of spring water that I would hold for a minute, and then after that I would hold the stein for as long as I could. I would do that every other day. The other days, I used resistance bands to get a different workout. I was using weights for a while, but I felt that the resistance bands were better because they were smaller and worked on your grip more. I would actually pull up the competition videos from the national championships and do my practice and training holds along with that. It helped me visualize things really well and get into the right frame of mind.
USSA: That's an awesome idea to keep you engaged while you're training. I love it. Do you think someone will break your record this year? What do you think is the upper limit of human capacity for holding a stein?
Jen: Hmm, I don't know. I mean, awesome if they do. More power to them. It means that they prepared and they earned it!
The longest that somebody can hold? I don't know. Twenty-one minutes is crazy for the guys! I mean, I could have gone out and ordered a pizza and came back while Mike Tyler was doing that! I don't know, maybe a couple minutes longer than that? For the women, I'd say maybe 6 or 7 minutes. If you have the right mentality and the right training and the dedication to keep it up. I think I could do 6 minutes most likely if I kept at it and worked for it and had a better preparation than I did for the nationals this year.
USSA: Thanks for sharing with us Jen! Congratulations again and have a few beers for us on your victory trips! We'll see you in NYC this fall!