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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County raises $11,870 during Bottlecaps and Corks amateur beer and wine competition

Judging a wine and beer competition sounds intimidating, until you realize that you get to play detective for a few hours.

For the second year in a row, I was asked by Shelby Herms, community engagement coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County (an agency that aims to provide one-to-one mentoring for children facing adversity), to be a judge for the Bottlecaps and Corks amateur beer and wine competition. Like a well-oaked bottle of Cabernet, it gets better with age.

Bottlecaps-and-Corks-Frank-PiaskowyThe competition drew a crowd of more than 300 folks wanting to sample amateur brews. Better still? Big Brothers Big Sisters was able to raise $11,870 for the agency, according to Herms.

“[T]here was plenty of room for everyone, plenty of room to grow the event. We hope to have 600 people come out next year,” said Glenn Stutzman, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County.

This was the third year for the event, and Herms and Stutzman did things a little differently by switching venues to Wellfield Botanic Gardens in Elkhart.

“Many people commented that this [Wellfield] is the perfect venue for this event, especially on a beautiful spring day,” said Stutzman. “Eric Garton, the garden’s director, was thrilled to host the event and said this is exactly the kind of partnership event that will benefit the garden, and [it] brings a whole different demographic out to discover the treasure of the garden.”

Drop-the-Dawg-Bottlecaps-and-CorksEvent goers were able to grab a plate of food from the Nelson’s BBQ truck near the tent, and were also treated to live music by Drop the Dawg. The line for Nelson’s stretched 15 to 20 people deep for most of the three-hour event, and food supplies started running short near the end.

The event was still a beer and wine competition, however, and there were plenty of amateur brewers and vintners willing to share their craft with attendees. Some artisans even traveled a bit to join the competition.

“We had a beer brewer from Chicago, several wine brewers from Michigan and, of course, lots from Indiana. So this has already become a regional thing and, we believe, the only one of its kind,” said Stutzman.

Judges — including myself, Frank Piaskowy, community columnist for Flavor 574, Food Guy Marshall King, Brandon Stanley, part owner of New Paradigm Brewing in Elkhart, Summer and Chip Lewis, owners of Iechyd Da Brewing Co., and Jeff Thomas of Thomas-Stieglitz Brewing Co. (Thomas was the first place beer winner of the 2014 Bottlecaps and Corks competition. His brewing partner, Gary Stieglitz, won second and third place that year.) — ranked each beverage on aroma, clarity, taste and aftertaste. Brewers and winemakers were sent the judges notes after the event was completed so that they can see how each of their beverages stacked up to judging.

Aaron-West-People-s-Choice-Bottlecaps-and-Corks“Not only does it [Bottlecaps and Corks] allow them to share their beers and wines with the public, but they can then enjoy their positive reaction to their brews,” Stutzman said.

As a judge, you find that each glass is like an open-case file. It’s your job to swirl, sniff and taste your way through the clues to discover the history of what you’re enjoying. As a beer or winemaker, you’re constantly asking yourself, “how can I make this better?”.

At an event like Bottlecaps and Corks, everyone involved makes it better each year.




  • First place: Aaron West and Kurt Drufke of Westwind Brewery Co. for their double IPA, FUPA.
  • Second place: Joseph Hull and David Krudson for their imperial IPA, Mosaic.
  • Third place: Aaron West and Kurt Drufke of Westwind Brewery Co. for their American pale ale, Sacrifice.
  • People’s Choice: Aaron West and Kurt Drufke of Westwind Brewery Co. for their American pale ale, Sacrifice.


  • First place: Dominic and Sarita Cataldo for their Cabernet.
  • Second place: John Trytko Sr. and grandson for their late harvest Ravat.
  • Third place: John Trytko Sr. and grandson for their Vidal-Riesling demi-sec.
  • People’s Choice: Ray Schwartz for his raspberry apple wine.

The winner of the Stella Marie Award for best table design was Randy Hesser.

Follow editor Joe Kuharic on Twitter @JoeKuharic and on Instagram @skippyjoe27.

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