Garner craft beer brewer cancer-free - just in time for Brewgaloo

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RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- When we last visited Brice's Brewing Company in Garner, company owner Kris Bengtson was in a coma and doctors still weren't certain what kind of cancer he had.

Three and a half months later, with a ton of help from his cancer doctors at UNC hospitals, not to mention the love and support from the state's beer brewing community, Bengtson is here at Brewgaloo this weekend -- and cancer-free.

"And I'm three weeks out from radiation now and I'm finally starting to feel human again," Bengtson said as he poured us a sample of his newest creation - a New England style IPA with Cheerwine.

It was just after the holidays when Bengtson, only 37 years old with a toddler at home and presumably healthy, was suddenly diagnosed with a rare form of tracheal cancer -- doctors told him only 2 percent of patients in the world contract it on their trachea

He spent 11 days in a coma.

"(Doctors) didn't waste any time but thank God because it was stage 4 cancer," he recalled. "In a matter of seven days I basically went from everything's fine to everything is not OK anymore."

Following surgery and six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, Bengtson stepped back into Brice's last Saturday.

But the fact that his passion project is still open for business is thanks in big part to his wife, Dana, and the countless number of breweries and bottle shops who stepped up to help - raising more than $15,000 on and perhaps thousands more collected through fundraisers in Bengtson's honor.

"The NC Beer Guild also put out an email saying that we needed people here to brew and clean. And people stepped up in a big way. We could not still be open without Taylor," Dana said.

Taylor Harrington is the brewery's one and only bartender who put in 65-hour work weeks to keep the suds flowing.

"(Kris) taught me everything I know. So I would be stupid not to help him. I'd be kind of a terrible person," she said with a smile.

Bengtson's return to the local craft-brewing scene comes with a deep sense of gratitude for his fellow brewers who stepped up to help his family and business during his health crisis.

"I think I counted over 30 different breweries and bottle shops that have done fundraisers for us and that's overwhelming," he said. "It's humbling. At times it makes you wanna cry."

Bengtson's doctors at UNC tell him they need to see five years of clean scans before declaring him a cancer survivor. But in the meantime, he pledges to live his dream, making good craft beer.

He was the face of the company at Brewgaloo on Friday night as the annual craft beer festival began. And he will be back out here Saturday as the festivities continue from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
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