The Vault Brewing Company has not only taken its place on Main Street in Yardley, Pennsylvania, the quaint borough in lower Bucks County, it has become a destination for those seeking a brewpub that hits all the right buttons. That includes subdued decor, a beer list that will please the grittiest hophead, a food menu that uses seasonal ingredients to entice the imagination, and — with no television to be seen — live jazz.
Recent performers include Mason Gross-trained drummer Gusten Rudolph, Philadelphia-based arranger, composer, producer, and musician Ken Pendergast, and New York City organist Pat Bianchi, recently nominated as a “Rising Star” in Downbeat’s 2015 Critic’s Poll.
But like the old Ortleibs, the Philadelphia club that opened in the former factory of the old school beer label, beverages are key to the Vault’s staying open.
In-house beer and wine from Pennsylvania wineries fill the Vault’s taps and bottles under the terms of their brew pub license, which allows only the sale of beer and wine by the bottle or glass, says Jim Cain, who co-owns the place with his brother, John.
“We have a brewpub license, which allows us to sell what is manufactured onsite,” Cain says. “It works very well just having beer and wine. When we opened up we could only sell pints.”
He says there are potential drawbacks to being able to sell liquor in addition to beer and wine. “It’s a give and take. A liquor license can cost a quarter of a million dollars. So that’s a significant investment. We work with Crossing Vineyards in Washington Crossing. We work with them exclusively on our wine by the glass. We work with three wineries to offer bottled wine.”
“We both came out of corporate America,” says Cain. “I spent a few years at Harte-Hanks (the national marketing consulting company). I worked on the direct marketing side of the business. My brother and I are entrepreneurs at heart and we wanted to start our own thing.”
Cain says his family lived in Bucks County, so they looked there first. His brother is back in the corporate world at the moment, working for a bank in Los Angeles.
“We were looking all over the place,” he says. “We were looking for a place where people wanted a place like this. We looked all over Bucks County and decided the central point where there was nothing like this was Yardley.
“At the end we basically wanted to open up a brewery. The area needed it. We wanted to bring a piece of the city into the suburbs. When this bank became available we decided to take the risk, and construction started in 2012. We had been searching for a small town where we could do a restaurant like this focusing on beer and food.”
“We did extensive renovations,” Cain says. “It was a chilly, uninviting space. We did extensive demolition of the interior. We wanted to give a blend of flare from the 1920s and a feel of the early 20th century.”
They installed a wood-fired oven that produces thin-crust pizzas of every variety, which are a specialty, along with assorted “starter” appetizers and sandwiches.
The building started as Yardley National Bank in the 1880s, says assistant manager Christopher Mahar. Other banks operated there over the years, the last being Bank of America, which closed in 2008.
Vaults that once held stacks of cash have been converted to storage housing stainless steel tanks where beer spends it final moments to settle any impurities before moving on to kegs.
Mark Thomas is the brewmaster at Vault Brewing Company. Mahar says he was featured recently in Philly Beer Scene Magazine. “He’s been with us since day one,” Mahar says. “He was a home brewer for more than 10 years. He has quite a lot of experience.”
Mahar says the next item on the agenda is creating a commercial space for distribution to bars and restaurants in Philadelphia and Trenton.
Sitting at the bar it is impossible to miss the four huge tanks with each bearing a sign designating one of the main ingredients of beer-making: water, malt, hops, and yeast.
“That is a working brewery,” Mahar says of the tanks behind the bar. “We use them as conditioning tanks and also serving tanks. They’re decorative but also functional. All the aroma and quality of that beer is coming right out of the keg. None of our beers are filtered.”
Mahar says he grew up in the New Hope-Solebury Area and is a carpenter by trade. “I’m in it for the long haul,” he says of his switch to the food and beverage industry.
“Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night we do live jazz. It’s usually some combination of guitar, bass, saxophone,” says Mahar, who proudly points out that Morrisville pianist and recording artist Eric Mintel has performed there. “We’re pleased to have him come in. He’s a local guy and has a good following.”
Cain says that the idea is for the music and space to work to create an urban feeling or vibe. “We don’t necessarily promote the acts that come in, often times that will detract from the overall experience.”
Vault Brewing Company, 10 South Main Street, Yardley, Pennsylvania. 267-573-4291 or vaultbrewing.com.
Jazz schedule: Guitarist Mike Lorenz and his trio, Wednesday, November 25, 8 to 11 p.m.; Coyle Brothers Trio, Friday, November 27, 8 to 11 p.m.; Jazz vibraphonist Behn Gillece, Saturday, November 28. 8 to 11 p.m.; Princeton pianist Keith Franklin, Thursday, December 3, 7 to 10 p.m.; the Hazelrigg Brothers, Saturday, December 5, 8 to 11 p.m.
Brewery tours, Saturdays, at 1 p.m. Options include the free tour and a $5 beer tasting and Vault glass souvenir. Reservations required.