Annual ‘Bottlecaps & Corks’ fundraiser set for May 26

ELKHART — Have a taste for the good stuff and a desire to do good in the community? Mark your calendars.

The fourth annual Bottlecaps & Corks is set from 5 to 9 p.m. May 26 at Wellfield Botanic Gardens in Elkhart. The event is a showcase for home brewers and vintners, and is also a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County.

Shelby Herms, community engagement coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters, said the amateur beer and wine competition and tasting is open to the public. Bottlecaps & Corks is also the newest fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“We were looking to add another event to the Big Brothers Big Sisters calendar, and we were really hoping to find one that would draw a lot of people in,” Herms said. “Not necessarily people who are already familiar with who we are and what we do, but people who might want to come because they like beer and they like a wine tasting…And then while they’re there, we can share with them about our program and what we do and they can learn more about it. But they’re already supporting us, just by purchasing a ticket.”

Herms said Bottlecaps & Corks is growing in both attendance and participation.

“The first year, I think we had about a dozen beers and wines,” she said. Last year, 18 brewers and vintners showcased 27 beers and 16 wines.

The 2016 event also raised around $12,000 for a non-profit organization aimed at making a difference.

Building relationships

According to Herms, the goal of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to change children’s lives through one-to-one mentoring.

“Our mission is to match kids one to one in professionally supported, long-term relationships, (and) support those relationships through the length of their match,” she said. “We are primarily community-based matches. That means the mentor and the kid go out in the community and do things like roller skating, go out to dinner, do things like that together.” Herms indicated that some matches may have a hobby such as running, or building in a workshop.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a county-wide program. Children are referred to it by either their parents or through the school system. Herms said the organization has close to 90 mentors who are matched with a child; around 50 more children are on the waiting list for a mentor.

Big Brothers Big Sisters offers new opportunities for children and the volunteers who care about them. For amateur brewers and vintners, Bottlecaps & Corks can provide an opportunity as well.

Jeff Thomas should know.

A good experience

Thomas, of Thomas-Stieglitz Brewing Co. in Goshen, was one of the participants in the first Bottlecaps & Corks.

“We were home brewers at the time, and got started by entering the competition the first time around,” Thomas said. “And we won,” taking the first three judged positions.

Bottlecaps & Corks is open to amateur producers only. As such, Thomas-Stieglitz – which “went pro” by opening the brewery in April of last year – is ineligible to compete. Nonetheless, Thomas was one of the event judges in 2016, and said he is planning to do that again this year.

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“I think it’s just a great opportunity to get out and know who the local home brewers are, and then kind of gauge your beer against everybody else’s,” he said. “The guys who are willing to put it out there, anyway.”

Thomas added that Bottlecaps & Corks has been a good experience every year.

“It just keeps getting bigger,” he said.

Before Bottlecaps was bigger, it was an idea.

Elkhart attorney Andrew Hicks and Stephanie Patka organized Bottlecaps in its formative stages. Via email, Hicks indicated the main reason was to add another major event to help spread the word about Big Brothers Big Sisters and raise money for the non-profit. Another reason was to bring attention to one of the “hidden gems” of the community.

“We have a ridiculous amount of talented homebrewers and home wine makers,” said Hicks, who is also on the Big Brothers Big Sisters advisory board. “The entrepreneurial spirit of our region really shines through in this hobby.”

For Hicks, the third reason was purely selfish.

“I thought it was something that would be really fun to do and take part in,” he said. “I enjoy bringing different wines, meads, and beer and sharing them with other people. When you make wine or beer at home, it is an awful lot of fun, but it takes it to another level when you can interact with others.”

Local professional judges sample the entries, and Herms said all the brewers and vintners receive feedback. Bottlecaps & Corks attendees can vote on their favorites, as well.

“We’re really excited,” Herms said. “I think it’s just a really fun and unique fundraiser.”