I am a Yid. I like to rock. Veitur!

- [ Tuesday, March 30, 2004 ] -
Joseph Congiusti, 1950-2004
If you've ever shopped at Binny's Beverage Depot on Clark, you might be familiar with a great whiskey expert, named Joe C. Unfortunately, he passed away last week. He was truly talented, knowledgable, and a very nice man. If you bought a bottle from Binny's with a sticker that said, "personally selected by Joe C," you knew it was quality.
Liquor store worker hailed for his knowledge of spirits

By Nikki Usher
Tribune staff reporter
Published March 24, 2004

A day after Joseph Congiusti had called his boss at Binny's Beverage Depot to tell him his lymphoma had taken a turn for the worse, the longtime liquor expert was back at work as usual.

Mike Binstein, the owner of Binny's, found Mr. Congiusti on his knees in the store at 3000 N. Clark St. in December, restocking the bottom shelves with bottles of liquor. One of Mr. Congiusti's pet peeves was an empty shelf, Binstein said.

"He must have been in terrible physical pain, but he still thought it was important to do the small things because he took such pride in his work," he said.

Mr. Congiusti, 54, heralded by industry experts for his expertise and knowledge of spirits, died Sunday, March 21, in Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood of complications after his second bone marrow transplant.

Last October, Mr. Congiusti received the Keeper of the Quaich award from the Scottish whisky industry, one of the most prestigious awards in the business.

"He was a true expert and a pioneer in the spirit industry," said John Hansell, the publisher of Malt Advocate magazine, who has known Mr. Congiusti for 15 years. "He judged in competitions all over the world and was highly regarded."

Mr. Congiusti was a lifetime Chicago resident and lived in his boyhood home in the Jefferson Park neighborhood until his death. He graduated from Taft High School and received a bachelor's degree from Northeastern Illinois University in the early 1970s, said his wife, Lori.

Mr. Congiusti's father introduced him to the liquor business. They worked together at Paterno Liquors, 5303 N. Milwaukee Ave. He spent about 30 years working at other stores, including Sam's Wine & Spirits. He began working at Binny's three years ago.

"He was a student of the brands and had a huge mental database of everything," Binstein said. "It wasn't chugging with him; it was drinking and picking the nuances out, comparing the vintages."

Family and friends said Mr. Congiusti traveled the world, visiting distilleries to learn more about their products. He traveled frequently to the Cognac region of France and enjoyed visiting whisky distilleries on the isle of Islay in Britain, his wife said.

"He also loved the cultural aspect of all of this travel," she said. "Before we'd go, he'd put tapes on in the car to learn the languages, so he could try to do business in them."

Mr. Congiusti also was a sports enthusiast. His jogging partner, Bob Kurtz, remembered that he would always go running in black Army boots.

"He did it because that's the way he said he used to run when he was younger," Kurtz said.

Other survivors include two sons, Vincent and Robert; a daughter, Shirley; his parents, Joseph and Evelyn; three sisters, Lizbeth Congiusti, Lauren Zubert and Claudia Marren; a brother, Dominic; and a granddaughter.

Visitation will be held from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in Cumberland Chapels, 8300 W. Lawrence Ave., Norridge. Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church, 4646 N. Austin Blvd., Chicago.

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

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