Beaufort News

Former Army Ranger turned brew master to showcase craft beers at the Beaufort Water Festival

Retired U.S. Army Ranger Capt. Mark Johnsen, founder and brew master of Spartanburg-based RJ Rockers, will salute the military by serving his favorite microbeer, Patriot Pale Ale, at the Beaufort Water Festival's opening ceremonies.

Lee Distributors features two craft beers each night of the festival, and it will be serving up Johnsen's brews Friday. Johnsen described Patriot Pale Ale as having a subtle caramel flavor. His other beer being served is Son of a Peach, brewed with South Carolina peaches. It is only available in the late spring and summer. Three-ounce samples of each beer will be offered for free. Sixteen-ounce draft beers will be sold.

"These are our very high-end beers, some after-dinner beers that you pair with food like wine," said Mark Hetrick, Lee Distributor sales manager in Beaufort.

A captain in field artillery during the Gulf War, Johnsen discovered his brewing hobby while stationed in Germany in the early 1990s.

"My family and I lived in a small German village where we were the only Americans, and there was this 300-year-old brewery about 200 yards from our house. We would walk down the street and have a beer, and I became fascinated with all of this. That is what inspired me to get into it," said Johnsen. Upon his return to the states in 1995, he started home brewing, a hobby, he said, "that got out of control."

Johnsen gathered six of his friends, dubbed the "Sons of the Fermentation," and started RJ Rockers, a brew pub/restaurant in April 1997 in downtown Spartanburg. In the past 13 years, the brewery has increased its capacity five times and now distributes from Georgia to as far north as Washington, D.C.

Johnsen enjoys golf and the beach and said Hilton Head Island is one of his favorite vacation spots. It also is the home of his in-laws, Paul and Roberta Williams. When Johnsen is running his business in Spartanburg, he makes use of what he calls "an easy payroll": His friends come to bottle the beer each week in exchange for some of his homemade brew.