The drive there was, in a word, lovely. It took us into and through the quaint town of Yardley, Pennsylvania. While the craft beer fan in me pined for the suds to come, the photographer in me salivated at the many bucolic photographic opportunities that surrounded me. I almost drove right past the brewery in part because of the scenery but also because of the appearance of the building itself. I mistook it initially for a bank but, as it turned out, my first impression wasn't that far off of the mark!
...like rolling into a brewery five deep with matching Sesame Street character t-shirts. My wife and I each sported a different character as did all three children; this worked perfectly at Sesame Place but transformed us into a sight to behold at a brewery. I hoped that the relative proximity of the brewpub to the theme park would dampen the novelty of our appearance and so we headed inside.
My first impression as soon as we stepped in was that it was going to be awkward as hell. The decor, the soft music, and the overall ambiance of the place screamed upscale and I had a flashback to my nightmare experience in Princeton. I snuck a glance at the menu and cringed seeing what appeared to be overly expensive appetizers; thankfully, my initial misgivings couldn't have been more misplaced.
Our hostess offered us several seating options and ultimately led us to an area with low tables. She took us right over to a booth in the corner and set us up without any indication of exasperation. In fact, her hospitality immediately put me at ease as I took in the unique aesthetic of the dining area. Moments later, our waitress, Heather, arrived and greeted us not only with a warm smile but with an entire round of waters--two large glasses for the adults and three smaller glasses already with lids and straws affixed.
I cannot overstate how incredible that seemingly trivial detail is and just how impressed I was by that. Vault was the 127th different brewery that we've visited and that was the first time that has ever happened. We've felt comfortable at different breweries and brewpubs before with the kids but we've never felt that welcomed. It was a simple act--one that Heather might not have even thought twice about--but it put Vault instantly into a category of its own.
After taking a second to peruse the menus, we decided to get a flight of all six beers that were on tap as well as a pair of sandwiches. The pricing was a little on the higher end (my Cuban Sandwich was $13 while my wife's Chicken Sandwich was $12) but it wasn't egregious. We also ordered a pair of craft sodas made onsite--one hibiscus and one celery. We didn't wait long for anything but I took advantage of the time to explore the building a bit and to snap some pictures.
Now, I could sit here and draft some long-winded paean about the beauty of the place but I believe the proprietors are far more succinct and effective than I could be at describing Vault's interior:
"Upon arriving and walking through our “faux vault entryway,” you’ll notice that the entire brewery and wood-fired kitchen oven are completely open to view. The brewery sits directly behind the bar and the kitchen is adjacent to the dining tables. The décor is a combination of regal bank, stark industrial, old-world, and modern. For images of the interior, click here.
You may notice that we have no TVs, non-traditional menu items, and no pop/rock music. These are all by design. We opted for a stunning interior and conversation starters rather than TVs; unique gastro-pub dishes rather than wings-and-fries; and recorded/live jazz and funk rather than radio music and DJs. We strive to create an experience where couples and friends can enjoy themselves in an upscale, relaxed environment."
The interior is indeed stunning and the soft warble of the reggae funk served as the perfect sonic backdrop for our afternoon repast. Though we didn't spend much time by the bar it struck me as a classy, classic cocktail-sipping location from New York City--a great spot to work your way through a few quiet pints with friends. Indeed the entirety of the location lends itself to ample conversation and subdued symposium as opposed to the frenetic frat house activities engendered by other more lowbrow establishments.
|Cuban Sandwich with Sweet Potato Chips|
My wife's chicken sandwich vaulted into my top ten all time sandwich list. The sourdough bread was perfectly thick and chewy with just the right amount of girth and give. Speaking again to Vault's attention to detail, what truly elevated this sandwich to stratospheric heights was the use of charred onions and bacon, a divine combination of smoked gouda and cheddar cheeses, and a unique marriage in the barbeque honey mustard sauce that adorned it; the inclusion of bitter, peppery arugula instead of traditional lettuce cut through the palatable panoply of unctuous flavors and provided the perfect balance.
|A half dozen heavenly brews|
I started with the New Zealand IPA--intrigued by its promise of big tropical flavors and dry white wine elements; I was not disappointed. The inclusion of nelson sauvin, waimea, and rakau hops provided not only an incredible bouquet for this sip of summery perfection but also a follow-through on its initial advertisement. At 7.00% abv, it packed just enough punch and was backed up by a great body and mouthfeel.
Jumping back into order, I began making my way along the color spectrum continuing with the Blanc Blonde and Bavarian Hefewiezen. With nearly 3,500 different beers under my belt, it takes a lot to wow me, particularly with the more mundane styles but these two bowled me over. The brightness of the blonde as well as the bubble gum and vanilla sweetness of the hefeweizen made both stand out as ideal iterations of their respective styles. The English Pale was great but I'm admittedly not a terribly huge fan of so-called "real ales" that are casked and served properly. I did pick up on the toffee and biscuit notes but had a hard time looking past the inherent flatness and warmth. Again, this is not a knock on the beer it's just not a style that I prefer.
The Pi IPA was a pleasant surprise, mirroring the trove of tropical flavors and aromas as its New Zealand brethren. This one was super juicy with a different assortment of fruity notes due in part to the inclusion of mosaic hops. My favorite beer though was the Crystal Stout--a simple summer stout redolent with roasted chocolate notes and a soupçon of herbal bitterness that made it unique. For the "I don't drink stouts when the temperature gets above 70 degrees" crowd, THIS beer is evidence of why you're missing out with such arbitrary, restrictive limitations.
I will admit, I have been suffering through some craft beer ennui for most of the year but my experience at Vault has revitalized me and reminded me of why I fell in love with craft beer in the first place. The owners' mission statement cited above encapsulates what every brewer should strive for: perfection in every aspect of the patron's drinking and dining experience. Heather was a phenomenal waitress who made us feel perfectly at home in our silly Sesame Street shirts despite the upscale environment. She was attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, and made an already awesome experience that much better.
The food was indescribably good and the beer served as the perfect complement. Whether you're rolling solo or as a couple, with a group of friends or an entire family, you will have a great time at Vault. I live an hour away and will most definitely be returning multiple times; it's worth the drive at four times the distance. In short, it's one of the top five places I've ever visited and it receives an A+, my highest rating. If you're in eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, New York City, or anywhere in New Jersey, you absolutely have to make the trip to Vault in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
New Zealand IPA (A+/96)
Blanc Blonde (A/95)
Bavarian Hefeweizen (A/95)
English Pale (A/93)
Pi IPA (A+/96)
Crystal Stout (A+/97)
For more information about the Vault Brewing Company please visit their official website here.