Best Coast Beer Fest supports more than great brews

Entering its fifth year, Best Coast Beer Fest returns to Embarcadero Marina Park South on March 9 featuring more than 100 craft breweries, food trucks and entertainment. From noon to 4 p.m. beer lovers can imbibe on suds from the likes of The Lost Abbey, Eppig and North Park Beer Co. while swaying to live music, and raising money for Cuck Fancer, a charity dedicated to providing grants and support to young adults coping with cancer.

Ahead of the sudsy event, PACIFIC spoke with Amy Ulkutekin of Best Coast Beer Fest and Ben Teller, founder of Cuck Fancer to find out more about the festival and the Cuck Fancer charity and its efforts to help young cancer survivors.

How did you come up with the idea and name for Best Coast Beer Fest? 

AMY ULKUTEKIN: I’ve been producing events for about 10 years and my business partner is a big craft beer lover. We went to a beer festival and had a great time so we decided to create our own and bring it to one of our favorite venues, Embarcadero South. We thought that it was the perfect pairing, beer plus a gorgeous view. The name came from a play off of the west coast being the best coast.

What's an insider tip or two you can give readers who will attend the festival?

ULKUTEKIN: For VIPs, explore the main festival space for the first hour and then head to the VIP tent when the GA opens. For GA, get there early. As soon as we get VIPs in, we pre-scan and allow GA attendees into an area with food trucks and games. It’s the perfect time to grab some lunch and chill before the event technically opens. Also, catch a ride. Don’t drink and drive.

Ben, you were diagnosed with cancer at 18, 20 and 22. How did you get through it each time? 

BEN TELLER: I think it was a combination of my mom taking on the burden of doctor appointments and side effects, and me just being young and naive. I didn't even know what an oncologist was. I had chemotherapy on Valentine's Day back in 2008 and still took my girlfriend out to dinner (in hindsight, pretty stupid). As I look back, it was the last diagnoses that really shook me. I became angry, scared, depressed and resentful. I started to lose hope. To be completely honest, I don't think I got over that last diagnoses until about six months ago when I moved to New York and left the constant reminders behind in Los Angeles. I want people to know that just because you are cancer free, it doesn't mean the battle is over. Mentally and emotionally, it takes time, and for everyone it's different.

How did you decide after your battles with cancer to start Cuck Fancer?

TELLER: I actually started Cuck Fancer while I was going through my first treatment at age 18. My oncologist threw a hat on my head that said F*** Cancer. At that time, I was in an infusion room with very old and sick people. I was scared. I felt alone. I was out of place. What is an 18-year-old doing in an infusion room? My friends kept asking me how they could support me, so I made Cuck Fancer bracelets. I decided to sell them for $1 each to raise awareness, and my friends sold 3,000 bracelets in just a few weeks at their colleges. That's when I realized Cuck Fancer could be more.

How does Cuck Fancer operate?

TELLER: We want to give young adults a glimmer of hope in what is the scariest time of their lives. I've talked to so many young adults who just wish there were more resources for people their age. Cuck Fancer isn't just for those young adults that are battling, but it's also for those who have lost loved ones and need an outlet. So now we travel across the country, throwing events, raising awareness for these young adults. Cuck Fancer has no limits in what it does to fundraise, just like cancer has no limits in who it can affect. 

Who are the recipients of the grants?

TELLER: Young adults ages 18-30 who are either battling cancer, or within five years of remission. We have a wide range of factors that go into deciding who will receive a grant (finances, necessity, age, severity, etc). If we had the funds, we'd give everyone a grant who applied. It's hard to pick just one recipient, but the ones that are near and dear to my heart are the ones who decide to go back to school to help other cancer survivors.

What's a word of encouragement you can give to readers who might be facing a similar struggle?

TELLER: Positive thinking. Cancer can cause a downward spiral of thoughts. It's the thoughts that take away our mental capacity to fight day in and day out. The unknown is scary, there is no denying that, but cancer is often out of our control, so I always tell my peers to go one day at a time.

What gets you out of bed every day?

TELLER: Knowing that I still have a full life to live, regardless of how many years I was sick. And my friends and family.

How can local San Diegans get involved?

TELLER: I'm really hoping that we can participate in more events and start to raise more money. The larger our organization grows — we have granted over 70 young adults grants since 2013 and over $175,000 — the more people apply.

Final thoughts?

TELLER: I didn't start Cuck Fancer because I wanted to, it kind of fell in my lap. It's become a part of me. It's hard to know if Cuck Fancer would have existed today if I were only diagnosed once at age 18. But knowing what I know now, how things in this world just happen, I couldn't be more grateful to have met some of the most inspiring young adults in the world. Our recipients make me a better person, and for that I am forever in debt...

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