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South Carolina Veteran Taps into Sustainable Brewing

Standing in a building that used to serve as Spartanburg, South Carolina’s Salvation Army, RJ Rockers Brewing Co. continues the buildings legacy of doing good through its mission:  “Handcrafted. Every Beer. Every Drop. Every Time.” After serving active military duty in the Gulf War as an Army Ranger, RJ Rockers co-founder and master brewer, Mark Johnsen, found himself stationed in Germany. He made the most of his overseas assignment and enjoyed the flavorful beers of the German masters while learning everything he could about brewing. By the time of his honorable discharge, he knew enough about brewing to start serving the public. Johnsen opened Spartanburg’s first brewery in 1997. 

While the brewery grew, it changed locations several times, reviving every community it inhabited. Eventually, it landed in its current location in the heart of downtown Spartanburg, also known as the “Grain District.” Today, the revitalized building that serves as the brewery’s home is a beacon for live music, great food, and of course, sustainable craft beer.

At RJ Rockers, acting as good stewards of the environment is just another part of brewing great beer.

Solar panels installed on the brewery’s rooftop feed into a heating system that supplies most of the operation’s needs for hot water. With the ability to heat over 600 gallons of water, the system generates 400,000 BTUs per day. Over its 30-year-lifespan, the system is expected to save over 300,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. 

As a vocal advocate for renewable energy within South Carolina, Johnsen believes investments in clean energy hold both monetary and community value. “Today, our efforts to implement eco-friendly practices not only drive down operations costs but help support the surrounding environment that our business feeds on,” Johnsen shared. “It is our hope that more leaders will open their mind to the good that clean energy eco-friendly practices bring to small businesses and the revenues that the industry provides to the state, helping support infrastructure, schools, emergency services, and more.”

These solar panels will keep 300,000 tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere over their lifetime. Photo courtesy of RJ Rockers Brewing Co.

The eco-friendly practices at RJ Rockers aren’t limited to harnessing the power of the sun. With the long-term goal of becoming 100 percent self-sustaining, RJ Rockers is invested in the future of its community. When local laws canceled the recycling of glass, the brewery moved entirely to recyclable aluminum cans. The lighting within the brewery and taproom uses motion sensors to reduce energy consumption. The 10 tons of spent grain the brewery generates is hauled away each week by an upstate farmer for use as cattle feed. Every day the team at RJ Rockers is finding new ways to reduce waste and ensure the sustainable future of their community. 

Co-founder John Bauknight IV told The Business Download about their plans to pilot a composting program for the waste from their restaurant along with a new solar-powered roof.

As the nation emerges from a harsh winter during a global pandemic, the prospect of enjoying a beer, a burger, and a live band in RJ Rocker’s sun-drenched taproom sounds almost too good to be true. Mark Johnsen hopes his business can serve as a proving ground for small businesses as they look to repair the damage done in the past year. RJ Rockers is currently selling a run of “Bring Back the Burg” crowlers (a giant 32 oz. can), with a dollar from each sale going towards a community Small Business Fund that provides grants to smaller struggling businesses. 

As leaders in the community, the team at RJ Rockers are champions of good business and sustainability. “We believe sustainability matters regardless of the industry, and for the craft industry, it’s just too simple not to. I came out of the paper and plastic shredding and recycling industry, so it’s part of my DNA,” Bauknight said. “Anything we can do to reduce consumption is better for the community. When one of your highest elevation points is the landfill, we should all be working towards greener ways.”

The sign of quality customer service is when you can see the smiles under the mask. Photo courtesy of RJ Rockers Brewing Co.


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