When you go to your favorite local pub after a long day at work, nothing beats a cold beer. As I sit here writing this article, I can’t help but wonder: what defines a beer and gives it character? Is it the process or is it the story behind the beer? Maybe it’s both? Sometimes you just have to venture out to find the answers you seek, but where to begin? I decided to step out of the office for this article, folks. I visited some new friends at Ghost Hawk Brewing Company in Clifton before it opened its doors, and had the opportunity to sit down and truly find out what makes a beer…
Ghost Hawk Brewery’s story roots from years ago. One of the founders, Steve Bauer, tried to start a brewery a long time ago,
but it never came into fruition. Followed by hard times after the loss of both his close friend and his younger brother, he went
off the rails. It took a “wing and a prayer,” or more specifically, a Facebook post, to get Steve motivated and back on track.
He took it as an opportunity to grow in order to stop working for others, and be his own boss. Steve had a good mind for
marketing strategy to bring to the table, so when his friend Tom Rachelski replied after reading his post, they decided to
meet over beers in June 2017 and have a serious discussion.
Before this conversation, both men had things going on in their lives. Tom was planning to buy a house, and Steve was
in the midst of working on his clothing line…but both wanted to see what idea they could invest in together for the long
term. Behold, the idea of a brewery was born. Since Tom was the “financial guru,” he immediately began researching how
to start a successful brewery…2 years later, the idea moved forward. After struggles and friendships renewed, the dream
of Ghost Hawk Brewery became a reality. Currently the staff of Ghost Hawk Brewery consists of Tom, the “financials and business mind,” Steve, “brand and PR expert,” Chris Sheehan, “the master brewer,” and one silent partner specializing in project management. A perfect blend making Ghost Hawk Brewery the success it is today.
Now you might be wondering how Ghost Hawk got its name. According to Steve: “The hawk was a dedication to my brother
Danny that passed away…” Danny was also best friends with Tom Rachelski in high school, so when the time came to pick
a name and design, it was a mutual decision for both parties. Steve recalls, “When we were kids, we used to do a lot of hiking
and camping with my dad. We always used to take the binoculars and watch birds. My dad was also a nature photographer.
We had a big connection and love for hawks. When my brother passed away in 2014, I kept seeing hawks at weird places and
at weird times.” When it came time to think of a logo, Steve considered it a sign. “I don’t believe in this stuff, but it just happened so many times. I came up with many ideas/concepts and ended up scrapping them all because they didn’t have heart. I
kept thinking of a hawk, and damn, it has to do something with a hawk.” After many ideas, lightning struck for Steve. He kept
drawing pencil sketches and working on designs of what Ghost Hawk Brewery’s logo would become before saying, “This is it.”
When it came time to find a location, the decision was simple for Tom and Steve. Both came from Clifton, and though they looked
into out-of-state options, they ultimately decided to build Ghost Hawk where they both grew up. Steve was a bartender in town
for years, and both had the “home town advantage”. They both had contacts and neighbors they knew from when they were
kids that were dying to check out the place, but there was one other bonus that made Clifton a sure thing…that was Silk City
Distillers. Steve’s friend John Bednar, the owner of Silk City Distillers, happens to be conveniently next door to the brewery.
According to Steve: “I used to hang out with John all the time at the bar…When Tom and I were planning this thing out, I mentioned ‘why don’t we go and talk to my buddy John?’ He’s got a whisky distillery in Clifton and he can let us know what happened with the city zoning board. He gave us a lot of great knowledge and it turns out his uncle owns this building, so
when this unit opened up he introduced us.” After some exchanges in Polish between Tom and John’s uncle, it was a
match. The distillery also introduced Tom and Steve to expert brewer Chris Sheehan. In Steve’s own words: “the stars
aligned on that one…”
Now let’s talk about what makes Ghost Hawk so distinctive. When it comes to their product, the guys at Ghost Hawk
had this to say: “No one’s going to reinvent the wheel when making beer, but what we do have is Chris. He is a master of
his craft. He studied microbiology at UC Davis, he knows the science behind yeast, also known as zymurgy.” With their
secret weapon Chris at their side, bringing both his 29 years of brewing experience and extensive knowledge to the table [he’s even won 9 medals from the Great American Beer Festival], there’s nowhere to go but up for the guys at Ghost Hawk. Now let’s talk about what goes into the beer. Ghost Hawk Brewery prides itself in using only ultra-high quality ingredients, organic products, and even experimental hops. They don’t cut any corners, ensuring a great tasting product as an end result.
When you walk into the brewery, you’ll notice that it looks like a factory showing you not only the process of what goes
into making Ghost Hawk’s final product, but bringing you an unique brewery experience. Ghost Hawk is also planning to build an onsite tasting room where you can sample the various beer styles and admire the LED-lit fermentation tanks. At the end of the day, Ghost Hawk’s only goal is to have everybody “experience their beer.” Quoting Tom: “the goal is to elevate NJ beer with creative collaborations with other NJ breweries and put NJ beer on the map.” With their dedication, drive, and great relationship with their neighbor Silk City Distillers, I predict only good things for the guys at Ghost Hawk Brewery. Be sure to follow them on Instagram and Facebook to see footage of their first batch of brew and announcements for their opening date in April. Thanks for
the tour, Ghost Hawk! Until then, cheers and happy drinking!