LINCOLN PARK — Your friendly neighborhood craft beer geek at Binny’s Beverage Depot won’t be around anymore to give thirsty regulars advice on the best beer to cure their cravings.
Over the years, Adam Vavrick, a chatty long-haired dude with a lip ring and encyclopedic knowledge of fancy beers, became such a beloved brew guru that members of Chicago’s cultish craft beer scene dubbed the Lincoln Park Binny’s location, 1720 N. Marcey St., “Castle Vav.”
“I was always big on the idea of a craft beer community. I always thought that was important. Beer is supposed to be a communal beverage. People always knew they could trust me about beer because I would never bulls--- them about anything,” the Rogers Park man said.
“People would come in and ask, ‘What’s new and interesting?’ One of my best customers … was [former Bulls player] Toni Kukoc, who I just thought was some tall guy. [He] would come in every Friday and say, ‘Adam, what do I buy today?’ And I’d load him up with some really cool beers.”
Vavrick, who was a Washington, D.C., sound engineer in a past life, moved to Chicago and got shoved out of a job as a big box bookstore manager before ironically finding his calling while trolling the craft beer cooler at his favorite local liquor store, Rogers Park Fine Wines and Spirits.
“The owner, Henry, who is a cool neighborhood guy … started ordering beer in for me. At one point I brought him some home brew and he said, 'You’re really good at this. You should go get a really good beer job. Try Sam’s Wines and Spirits,’” he said.
Vavrick took Henry’s advice, scored an interview at Sam’s — then among Chicago’s top liquor store chains — and got hired to stock the beer aisle at a suburban outpost.
After proving his worth, Vavrick got promoted to run the beer operation at the Lincoln Park store, which ultimately got bought out by Binny’s, and helped turn the place into a destination — and unofficial clubhouse — for craft beer enthusiasts.
Despite all the years of conversations about tasty brews, Vavrick decided it was time for a new challenge and accepted a gig as the marketing and sales director for Octopi Brewery Co., a startup brewing operation in Wisconsin run by Isaac Showaki, one of the co-founders of 5 Rabbit Brewery.
“There just wasn’t anywhere for me to grow. There was a ceiling and I reached it. I’m just not one to rest on my laurels,” Vavrick said of his decision to leave the giant Lincoln Park liquor store behind. “I’m 75 percent excited and 25 percent terrified.”
But before he leaves Chicago for the outskirts of Madison, Wis., Vavrick gave some of his fellow Chicago beer geeks a pretty cool goodbye present.
On a Facebook page for Chicago beer enthusiasts, he offered up a chance to score some of the finest beers in his personal collection, including some brews that might go for more than $500 on the craft beer black market (which actually exists, by the way).
For a lot of craft beer lovers, the good stuff in Vavrick’s beer cellar is the stuff they dream about — more than 100 rare craft beers (Goose Island’s Bourbon County stouts dating back to 2007, Three Floyds Brewing’s barrel-aged Behemoth, and a Trappist Westvleteren beer you can only buy from a Belgium monastery, to name a few) that he wasn’t going to drink before moving day.
“I didn’t want to move it all. There was no way to drink it all. And I wasn’t going to sell it,” he said. “So, why not give to the beer community?”
All you had to do to score five beers from his collection was donate $15 bucks to Hope For The Day, a suicide prevention charity close to Vavrick’s heart.
After his friend, Chicago musician and soundman Jamie Duffy, committed suicide in 2012, a group of folks put together a two-day charity concert called Cold Waves Festival, which is slated for Sept. 25-26 at Metro this year and raises cash for Hope For The Day.
“Suicide is something that’s really hard to deal with and affects a lot of people. I’ve had quite of few friends who have taken their own lives,” he said. “Hope For The Day was the first charity that came to my head. The response was overwhelming.”
More than 30 people made donations, some folks chipped in more than $100 each, and stopped by Vavrick's place to cherry-pick from beers they might otherwise never get to try.
Watching the interactions among visitors who came to check out his stash, Vavrick knew his giveaway, which netted at least $500 for charity, was the perfect farewell to fellow Chicago beer geeks.
“There was one guy who grabbed a really special beer and someone else said, 'I’ve never tried that.' And the guy who had it said, 'Take it, I’ve had it before,' " Vavrick said. “That was really gratifying.”
By Wednesday, all the beers were gone except for a special few that will make the trip with him. A true beer geek can't give away all the good stuff, after all.
As he packed up his stuff in preparation for his big move on Sunday, Vavrick said he was glad that Ol’ Henry at his favorite local liquor store nudged him into such a welcoming community of drinkers.
I asked him if he had any final words for the customers and friends he’s leaving behind.
“Be nice to each other. Don’t be a d---,” he said, chuckling a little. “Drink good beer and share, share the love.”
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