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Veteran Brewer Untaps Ghost Hawk in Clifton, NJ

Veteran Brewer Untaps Ghost Hawk in Clifton, NJ

Head Brewer Chris Sheehan is ready to roll out Ghost Hawk’s first brews.

By Tony Forder,

Chris Sheehan is in his 11th incarnation – as a brewer. His 28 years of brewhouse experience have brought the north Jersey resident to Ghost Hawk Brewing in Clifton, soon to open as Passaic County’s first craft brewery.

Fermenting tanks provide canvasses for local artists at Ghost Hawk.

Sheehan’s pride and joy – the 1 mil BTU boiler.

The brewery is the project of Tom Rachelski (President and Finances) and Steve Bauer (Marketing, Tasting Room) and it’s been a while in the making. Chris came to them through their neighbor John Bednar, one of three partners who opened Silk City distillery a few years ago literally next door to Ghost Hawk’s location.* Chris had given John advice back then, and when John heard the Ghost Hawk guys were looking for a brewer he said, “I’ve got the guy for you.” (*They are Units #5 and #6 at 321 River Road, Clifton. Looking for a landmark? Across the street is famous hot dog joint Rutt’s Hut.).

Chris has compiled quite a track record along the way including several Great American Beer Festival medals for his signature Foreign Extra Stout (a luscious, full-bodied stout, just shy of an imperial). But, if you’re thinking he’s a one-trick pony, he’s quick to remind you he won a gold in 2004 for Summer Solstice Wheat while at Chelsea Brewing Co. So, that takes care of two of his opening offerings – Raven Dark (stout) and a session strength American wheat ale, Deucalion. (Chris says it’s taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ok, now we know what he reads in his spare time – I confess I had to look it up).

Chris plans to have six beers on tap for the Grand Opening, April 20 (eventually there’ll be 12). He has what will be a staple – Ghost Hawk Lager (5%). He calls it a Continental Lager, somewhere between a Dortmunder and a Helles; – it was halfway through its 1-month sojourn in the horizontal lagering tank during my visit. He also presents Apex Predator, a New England IPA, and what started as a Double IPA but turned into a Triple IPA at 9.3%. He calls it Trouble.
Chris said he’s still learning the new equipment and tweaking the recipes. “I’m still getting a feel for the gravities and hitting the marks,” he said.

Wait, you say, that’s only five beers. I forgot, he has a delicious Cherry Wheat, which is basically the wheat beer conditioned on sour Montmorency cherries – not sweet, slightly tart, with a delicious cherry flavor.

Right now, the goal is to get open and accommodate an anxious public – they have several new investors after a recent round of crowdfunding when they hit some unexpected expenses. Down the road they’ll be able to crank out a lot of beer on their 15-bbl O’Neills (CT) brewhouse. The plan is for four year-rounds and many, many seasonals and one-offs. The space has a built-in mezzanine that will make for a great barrel-aging showcase.

What else? Where did the name come from? Ghost Hawk is named for Steve’s late brother. He tells the story way better than I ever could at