MERRILL - 12 years ago Sergeant Ryan Jopek lost his life while deployed in Iraq. The Merrill community continues to remember its fallen solider, and on Tuesday night people remembered him in a new way at the Sawmill Brewery Company.
The brewery's newest beer is about far more than adding a new flavor.
"We are releasing a very special beer tonight named Walter Amber Ale after a good friend of mine, Ryan Jopek," said Chris Burger.
Jopek died in 2006, while serving his last mission in Iraq.
"He was one of the most genuine, kind, approachable people I can remember," said Jopek.
Burger served alongside Jopek. He is now a brewer at Sawmill, and wanted to name a beer after his fallen friend. At first, Burger wasn't sure what Jopek's family would think about the idea.
"My first thought when I heard that they wanted to name a beer for Ryan, I just thought of him smiling and chuckling," said Tracy Jopek, Ryan Jopek's mother. I'm sure he is getting quite the kick out of it."
"I just think it's a really awesome thing that they're doing," said Brian Jopek, Ryan Jopek's father.
The name "Walter" in the Walter Amber Ale pays homage to Ryan's truck, which is named after Hall of Fame football player Walter Payton.
"People that know Ryan would then know what it's about instead of making it obvious," said Burger.
Those who knew Ryan knew the truck was an important part of his life.
"When he got home on leave the first place he went to get in his garage to get in his truck and drive his truck. It was everything," said Tracy.
"It is his truck, and always will be," said Brian.
The community's continued support of Ryan Jopek's memory means the world to his family.
"I mean, I don't think I could survive this journey without the support of the community behind me," said Tracy.
"It is a thrill to know there are people out there who haven't forgotten," said Brian. "Everybody has their own way of remembering, and this is just another way of doing that."
Not only does Burger hope the beer will serve as a way for people to remember Jopek, but also to remind people to continue supporting one another.
"The whole community came together to make this a reality for a fallen solider which is amazing," said Burger. "And that's kind of what we're hoping the beer can kind of stand for too is you know what the community can do when we all come together."