Opening a successful brewpub used to be so much easier. Back in the dark days when Americans mainly drank mass-produced fizzy water masquerading as real beer, the mere presence of a brewpub was almost enough to guarantee its success. The need for good beer—for real beer—was so desperate that even the occasionally disappointing pints that were served up at certain examples around the area were clamored for, the barstools packed with regularity and the often middling food lapped up with joyful abandon.
These days, however, we are all swimming in a veritable sea of great beer, not to mention excellent food. Everywhere I travel around the country, people from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast, upon hearing my Philly accent, interrogate me about the iconic brews that have become the stars of our local beer scene.
Merely opening a brewpub is no longer a guarantee of success; you have to actually make good beer. And the food must be on par with the brews. No pressure, right? Fortunately, Vault Brewing Co., a charming new addition in Yardley, is succeeding on all counts.
The beer itself is well crafted and balanced. And if it occasionally errs on the side of subtlety, that’s not a bad thing. For too long, the craft beers that had the most success around here were defined mainly by their intense hoppiness, higher alcohol levels and little else. They were interesting in their way, to be sure, but not as easy to drink as their most ardent fans claimed. One was good, two was iffy, three put you on the floor.
The talk these days is of session beers: balanced, nuanced and complex but not in-your-face gems that are as enjoyable at the end of the third pint as the first. So the nicely floral Chinook IPA, the Dry Stout all evocative of baker’s chocolate and espresso beans, the Extra Pale Ale from cask? All three, just right. I would have wanted a bit more character in the Belgian Wit, a touch more complexity, but that’s a quibble considering the overall success of the other excellent brews.
And the food is just right for this beer and for this space. It’s casual and approachable and, with a very few exceptions, executed in a way that elevates the individual dishes and shows the beer the respect it deserves.
The “Buffalo” genre is a well worn and necessary one at brew pubs, and as such is often showed precious little respect. Here, however, it is given brand new life with the Buffalo cauliflower, roasted in the wood oven, glazed with a piquant hot sauce, kissed with buttermilk, and anointed with a garlic-chive sour cream. Accompanied by a dressing-glistening salad—complete with sliced celery, of course—this is as good as any Buffalo wings I’ve had in some time. These just happen to be vegetarian … and really clever.
If the cauliflower paired well with the IPA, then the lamb meatballs were better suited to a darker beer, perhaps the stout in which they’re braised. Regardless of pairing, these were excellent: tender and earthy and accompanied by chive-mint cream, whiskey cheddar and thinly sliced apples. Ambition and lack of pretense rarely coexist so well.
Pizza, although its thin crust could have benefited from half a minute longer in the oven, was nonetheless a menu highlight. The offerings run the gamut from classic margherita to more complicated rounds. The remarkable prosciutto fig, for example, was topped with a ricotta creme, creamed maple syrup and caramelized onions. What could have devolved into little more than a study in sweetness was actually a well-balanced pizza of serious complexity. I’d have loved a Belgian-style ale with this, but alas, there was none on offer during my visit. Later in the year, hopefully.
The only real letdowns, really, were the paninis. Unlike so much of the rest of the menu, they seemed to suffer from a lack of energy, of flavor. The roast pork could have used more of the spice rub that was noted on the menu but unfortunately difficult to discern on the individual slices. And the chicken read as far more interesting on paper than it was on the plate: The Belgian Wit braise was in precious little evidence—though this was the least impressive brew I tasted, so perhaps it stands to reason—and the other components all seemed relatively subdued, from the smoked aioli to the combination of avocado and arugula. (The pickled red onions, however, were lovely; I would have happily devoured more of them.) Crab cake sliders, however, went a way toward redeeming the sandwich offerings here. Snappy crusted and moist, these were very good examples of just how successful a simple crab cake can be when the ingredients and proportions are thoughtfully considered.
Desserts, generally not highlights of the brewpub genre, leveraged the beer here and utilized it for very successful ends. Russian imperial stout custard was light yet densely flavored—truly a standout in the region. And the s’more, especially with its anchor of a housemade beer marshmallow, was a revelation. Suddenly, after the first smoke-kissed bite—cooked up in the wood-fired oven—I was thrust back into childhood, albeit a beer-flavored one.
Vault, then, is an excellent addition to the local dining and drinking scene. With its light-filled spaces, phenomenal service, and gorgeous architecture—this used to be a bank, hence the name—it is a successfully creative brewpub that embodies so much of what makes the genre perpetually popular. And it boasts enough twists to surprise and charm even the most jaded among us. It certainly impressed me.
Vault Brewing Co.
10 Main Street, Yardley
267-573-4291 | vaultbrewing.com
Photograph by Rob Hall