Beer crafted in honor of fallen firefighters benefits foundation

HOUSTON – The fire at the Southwest Inn in May 2013 ended the lives of four courageous Houston firefighters. But even in death, the fallen four continue to serve and inspire. Their deaths led to the creation of the Robert Garner Foundation, which makes it possible for others to follow their example of keeping communities safe.

One of the sponsors of the foundation has created a craft beer to help raise money in honor of the firefighter heroes. The beer is called Station 68, named after one of the first companies to answer the call at the Southwest Inn.

Garner, Anne Sullivan, Robert Bebee and Mathew Renaud rushed into the burning building to look for guests who might be trapped inside. They were killed when part of the structure collapsed.

Station 68 beer was created in northwest Houston at the Karbach Brewery, which is the fastest growing brewer of craft beer in the United States. The brewmaster, Eric Warner, is overseeing the kegging.

"We kind of said, 'Hey, firefighters are tough guys, and they're not afraid.' (Let's make) a little bit sturdier beer," Warner said. "And by putting it in the barrels, the barrels are charred -- bourbon barrels, they char on the inside -- and that imparts a more robust flavor. So we said, 'It makes sense; let's do that.'"

Quincy Wade was Garner's best friend and served side-by-side with him at Station 68. Now he helps run the foundation.

"Immediately after the fire I wanted to do something to remember him and let his name carry on, so the idea was to create a foundation called the Robert Garner Foundation and raise $6,000 to allow two kids to go through fire school in honor of Robert Garner," Wade said. "(He) always wanted to be a firefighter when he was a kid. It was one of the happiest days of his life. And so we're just honored to be able to do this in his name and help out as many people as we can."

The idea for the Robert Garner Foundation was hatched over a beer, making it all the more appropriate that one of its biggest sponsors is a brewery. Karbach stepped up to honor the heroes of Station 68 with a series of beers specially crafted to honor them.

"The first Station 68 that we brewed had that intrigue of a little bit of the barrel flavor, had that nice malt richness to it," Warner said. "This next Station 68 that's coming out now also has some smoky characteristics -- that actually comes from the types of malts that we use and from the type of yeast that we use. You can actually impart smoky flavors into beers in a few different ways without using liquid smoke."

Although the Robert Garner Foundation began with the modest ambition of raising $6,000, it has now raised more than $150,000 through beer sales and other fundraisers, including the foundation's first gala, scheduled for late September.

The beer will also be available at the Garner Firefighter Golf Tournament and the Red, White, and Brew 5K.

The First Annual Robert Garner Firefighter Foundation Golf Tournament happens Monday, Sept. 8, at Redstone Golf Club. For more information on the event, call 281-804-3088 or email golf@garnerfoundation.com. You can also register online at www.garnerfoundation.com/golf.

The Foundation Gala is scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For information on tables and tickets, call 281-804-3088.