By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
MONROE — Under normal circumstances, drinking and hammering might seem like a bad idea.
That doesn’t appear to be the case, however, if you’re playing Hammerschlagen.
The German-inspired drinking game consists of driving a 3-inch nail into a slice of a stump. It sounds easy, but participants have to use the wedge-shaped end of a cross-peen blacksmith hammer, not the broad end, to do it.
While some of those who tried Hammerschlagen on Friday at Oktoberfest in Monroe lamented their lack of skill, they had fun with it nonetheless.
“I was surprised how hard it is,” said Darren Hendrickson, 50, of Monroe.
Plus, “put a few of these in you,” said his friend, Ken Makarin of Everett, 34, hoisting his beer.
Festivals Inc., which runs the Bite of Seattle, the Taste of Tacoma and Oktoberfest Northwest in Puyallup, brought Oktoberfest to the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe for the first time this year, said Cindy Stohr, media director for the company.
In the Hammerschlagen area, stump slices are placed waist high on large wooden spools set on their sides like tables.
The supervisor for the activity, Marcel Drew, gently hammers one nail per player into the stump just far enough so it stands on its own. Each player then takes a turn at driving their own nail downward, getting only one stroke each turn before passing the hammer to the next player.
The hammer goes around the table until one player wins by hammering his or her nail all the way down so the head is flat with the wood.
According to several sources, Hammerschlagen — “hammer strike” in German — is descended from a Bavarian drinking game called Nagelspielen, or “nail games.”
Stohr and Brett Gorrell of Festivals Inc. said they came across Hammerschlagen at an Oktoberfest event in LaCrosse, Wis.
It was a wild event, they said, with people putting down a lot of money on the outcomes.
“This is a gambling game,” Gorrell said.
At Oktoberfest in Monroe, as in Puyallup, a tournament is part of the weekend. The first two rounds were planned for Friday night with the next two scheduled for 6 and 7 tonight. The winners will square off at 8 tonight for the championship.
The winner gets $200, his or her choice of an Oktoberfest stein, free admission and free beer at next year’s event and their photo on a wall of fame, Gorrell said. Second place brings $50 and choice of stein; third place, choice of stein.
The tournament is first come first serve and participants must sign up two hours ahead of time.
Before the tournament begins, anyone can go up and try their hand at Hammerschlagen.
Brothers Derich and Dustin Loudenslager and their dad, Frank, played a couple of rounds on Friday, beer in one hand and hammer in the other.
Often, players hit the nail with glancing blows that only serve to bend it over, meaning they have use subsequent turns to straighten it out.
Derich Loudenslager, 41, of Shoreline, had trouble hitting the nail on the head.
“How many rounds are there before we just accept our shame and walk away?” he said.
Frank, 66, visiting from Fresno, Calif., also was just grazing the nail.
“Do you know how to say ‘suck’ in Deutsch?” he said.
In the second round, Drew offered a Hammerschlagen T-shirt to the winner. Dustin, the youngest of the brothers, walked away with the prize.
Later, three beer distributors for the event, sampling their own wares, played a couple of rounds. Long rounds.
Todd Owsley of Arlington missed the nail several times.
“I’m just trying to scare the wood so it comes up around the nail,” he said.
Travis Schallot of Seattle struck several off-target blows.
“These nails aren’t regulation,” he said.
John Tufano of Seattle also struggled in the first round.
“This game would be more entertaining if there was fire involved,” he said. “Fire makes everything better.”
The three started their second round with a rule that each player who missed the nail had to take a drink of their beer.
Often, the game is played so the loser has to buy the next round, according to organizers.
Drinking beer isn’t a requirement for trying Hammerschlagen. The Monroe Oktoberfest also offers family-friendly features such as a root beer booth and a pumpkin-decorating contest for kids.
Abbie Rowland, who was staffing the Alaska Airlines booth at the event, took a few swings with the hammer.
Her advice for beginners?
“Keep your nail straight,” she said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.