Guest column for Spartanburg Herald-Journal, written by RJ Rockers’ founder, Mark Johnsen
At RJ Rockers, beer is an art.
When I decided to bring craft brewing to South Carolina after serving active military duty in Germany, it took twelve long months of craftsmanship and ingenuity to open our doors and become Spartanburg’s first original brewery in 1997.
For the next five and a half years, our brewpub became the soul of downtown nightlife and served as a catalyst for the revitalization of Morgan Square.
Like with any up-and-coming business, we made the decision in 2002 to expand to a production brewery where over the next six years, and with a lot of help from the Sons of The Fermentation, we were able to supply RJ Rockers’ brews throughout South Carolina, and eventually at favorite watering holes and stores everywhere.
But we couldn’t stay away from downtown Spartanburg forever. With the opening of RJ Rockers’ restaurant in 2017, we are happy to now be an anchor in the Grain District, as it is aptly called today.
With the brewery’s long history in the Upstate, it might be obvious that we take pride in being engrained in South Carolina and are grateful to call this state home for the last 23 years. We rely on local resources, and of course, the people, to operate at capacity with over 12,000 barrels. That is why we haven’t stopped bringing innovation to our craft — to not only brew better handcrafted beer, but to support the future of the industry and the environment that provides us with the ingredients to succeed.
Some might have noticed that there are solar panels at the top of our brewery. The system produces enough output to heat 600-gallons of water from about 56 degrees to between 120 and 140 degrees. This water makes up 60 percent of what we use in production, as well as flows to the restaurants’ restrooms. In total, it provides the equivalent of 400,000 BTUs – the unit used to measure heat energy per day – and is estimated to save 300 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over its 30-year life span. We’re sustaining delicious beer and our environment at the same time.
From an economic perspective, solar energy systems like ours are supposed to pay for themselves in about five years. But it is not about our brewery alone. By using solar power, we are supporting the clean energy industry that brings more than 46,000 jobs to South Carolina.
Since the coronavirus caused financial hardships across the state, it is crucial that our communities, businesses and leaders support clean energy workers so we can rebuild our economy post-pandemic without sacrificing our commitment to drive down carbon emissions for a sustainable future.
But we don’t stop at solar power. During our peak season, we generate about 10 tons of spent grain per week, which is hauled away by an Upstate cattle farmer and used as feed. Light sensors are installed throughout the brewery and the tap room lighting is on motion sensors. We actively participate in cardboard recycling, with all corrugated waste from Cribbs Kitchen and our facility baled up and hauled away by a recycling company. In 2019, we switched entirely from glass to aluminum since the community cancelled the recycling of glass.
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.
We are deeply appreciative of elected officials in South Carolina who support clean energy policies at the local, state and federal level. Gov. Henry McMaster has even issued a proclamation in observation of National Clean Energy Week (Sept. 21–25) offering a sign of support for an industry that millions rely on, even if they don’t know it.
It is our hope that more leaders will open their mind to the good that clean energy eco-friendly practices brings to small businesses and the revenues that the industry provides to the state, helping support infrastructure, schools, emergency services and more.
We don’t just brew beer at RJ Rockers, we provide people with an experience. When they take a sip, they are home. And we look forward towards many more opportunities to protect and sustain our home.
Mark Johnsen is the founder of Spartanburg’s RJ Rockers Brewing Company.