Beer Trivia Night
By Bobby Bush
As de facto Brothers of the Brew, R.J. Rockers bartender J.C. and brewer Mark Johnsen
are doing everything they can to keep great beer in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Assisted
by an active support group of loyal patrons Kim, Tim and Pete, also known as R.J.
Rockers’ Mug Club Officers, this four-and-a-half years old brewpub doesn’t come by
anything easily. Caught in the midst of a downtown renovation time warp, R.J.Rs’
calendar is a litany of promotions, all in an effort to keep the tables full and the beer taps
Closed Sundays, thanks to South Carolina’s outdated alcohol law, Mondays’ and
Thursdays’ deals are discount-priced pitchers of beer and wings. Tuesdays are Mug Club
Appreciation Night with one dollar beers for all 600 Rocker’s mug club members. Live
music graces the brewpub’s friendly confines on Friday evenings. Wednesdays and
Fridays feature live Trivia contests. Emceed by brewer/owner Johnsen, he of quick wit
and sharp tongue, cash prizes are awarded to the top three trivia teams.
And so it was on a Wednesday night Trivia occasion, actually the night before
Thanksgiving, that I found myself preparing for a second annual R.J. Rockers night of
Beer Trivia by drinking through a round of Mark’s delicious brews. Joined by the brewer,
who provided analytical commentary, and his wife Sue, this session began with Dr. “D’s”
Elixir of Life. An original recipe, this golden ale fell somewhere between several
German-style ales. Brewed in lagered ale Alt tradition, it’s Kolsch-like in mouthfeel
though sweeter and stronger than category specifications allow. Like a lot of things at
R.J. Rockers, this irreverent, nonconforming beer may not be easily described, but its
goodness needed little definition other than hmmmm.
R.J.Rs’ most popular beer, Carolina Kolsch, was smooth with a light, almost
lagery body, while seasonal Frau Blucher’s Munich Lager, done Vienna-style, was honey
sweet, medium bodied and dry finishing. Boasting a second helping of West Coast hops,
copper-colored Panther Pale Ale began with hops aroma and concluded with bitter finish
and aftertaste, sandwiching the fruity taste of an American-style pale ale. Amber ales are
one of the few undefined styles, if you will, of beer. Mark’s version, called The Horse
You Rode In On, is rich and malty, featuring lightly burnt caramel flavor. Another
amber-hued beer, Big Red Johnsen worked Irish Red ale improvisation. Slick tongue with
chocolate milk flavor and orange-ish aftertaste, this flagship beer is different but very
quaffable. Downtown Brown Ale, a traditional English ale, was chestnut brown with a
warm, dark ale taste, while Mr. Hanky Hazelnut was sweetly nutty. Chocolate met
butterscotch in this dark golden brown brew. Topping the list, Spartanburg Stout was
very chocolatey with creamy mouthfeel. A satisfying sweet stout. Nine beers from a
15-barrel brewhouse, Mark stays busy brewing and promoting.
In fact, it was almost trivia time, but first the gathered audience, already working
on beer and dinner, was treated to a complimentary beer tasting. With ad-libbed verbiage
from Mark and me, several rounds of R.J.Rs’ beers were passed among the tables.
Descriptive comments and anecdotes about each style at hand were followed by beer
trivia. Penned by yours truly, these ten questions were handed out, rather than delivered
via the sound system as Mark’s regular trivia contest is. “South Carolina Breweries” was
the quiz’s main focus, with a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale going to the person with the
Once again, questions that seemed simple to me obviously were not. Longtime
customer Jerry won with only four correct answers. Here’s a sampling of beer trivia for
you to try: 1) What brewpub claims to be SC’s first brewpub? 2) What SC micro
produced a beer brand named Caesar Head? 3) Tom Davis is owner/brewer of what SC
micro? 4) Which SC brewery has won the most Great American Beer Festival medals?
Answers: 1) Hilton Head Brewing Co. 2) Reedy River. 3) Thomas Creek. 4) New South.
No one works harder to bring their beer to the people. Spartanburg has a gem in
R.J. Rockers. See www.rjrockers.com.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush