Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Monday, May 26, 2014

In The Vault at Vault Brewing

In his famous short story, "The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allan Poe's Montresor led his nemesis, Fortunato, into the deep recesses of the catacombs. Once down there, Montresor chained his enemy to a damp wall and then sealed the opening with bricks. Fortunato is still there, according to Poe, though probably not in the same condition he was in when he went down.

I thought of that story today at Vault Brewing in Yardley, PA, when co-owner John Cain brought me into his vault. Vault Brewing is housed in the former Yardley National Bank, and that imposing structure, with walls two-feet thick, was built around the vault.

The vaunted Vault
The vault now houses cold kegs of the beer John and his brother and co-owner James make on the premises. John lured me in under the guise of showing me the device that serves as the logo for Vault Brewing. It's a valve that was installed when the bank was built, and it has a special oxygen provider that can (still!) be activated to pump oxygen into the vault in the event some hapless bank teller got locked inside accidentally. Those two-foot thick walls would not permit any sound to penetrate, so the trapped person would be able to breathe until help arrived. John demonstrated it, and as it whirred, I felt a twinge of Fortunato-itis, so I exited quickly. Besides, it was cold in there.

John's smile is suspicious...
And the premises, like the food, the beer and the co-owners, are fascinatingly unique. John and James, Doylestown-born, traveled the world with their peripatetic parents, and they found themselves in Mornington, Australia, a bit south of Melbourne. They visited a friend's brewery and simultaneously had what John calls an epiphany: HEY! WE COULD DO THIS BACK IN BUCKS COUNTY!

So they did, but not without some obstacles. They had settled on Yardley, a charmingly quaint suburb of Philadelphia with an appealing demographic for what they had in mind. They first tried to launch in an old brick building in another section of town, but the neighbors--probably canoe beer drinkers-- weren't keen on having a brewery in their backyard. So the hunt for a suitable space was back on.

Coming upon the closed bank, they walked in to explore and had another epiphany: WHOA! WE COULD REALLY DO SOMETHING COOL HERE!

Believe it or not, there was another big tank
up there at one time!
And indeed they have, though getting the rooms the way they wanted posed some serious challenges. How, for example, to get those big mash tuns and fermenters in through any existing door. Bank doors, especially back in those days, were far from wide and welcoming. The solution? Cut a wide door opening in
the side of the place, and use winches to set the massive equipment in place. It was worth the effort, however, as anyone entering is met immediately with towering, gleaming tanks and a comfortable bar. There are also tables in two rooms and on the deck for patrons to enjoy the food.

The food, according to John, was a pretty big obstacle itself. When the brothers realized they would need more than just beer to attract their target clientele, they turned to James' wife Anna. (James was actually married to Anna in the famous Fonthill Castle at Doylestown.) Anna, the first chef, designed the first menu, though she has since handed over those duties to others who work in an open kitchen with a gleaming copper wood-fired stove.


Vault Brewing's servers are trained to know which food to recommend with which beer, especially when new beers come out, like the one percolating and fermenting in this brief clip. The staff is genuinely friendly, so get to know Alex, Jackie and Brooke.

James and Head Brewer Mark Thomas set the brew schedule, and they like to experiment. I asked John what was the weirdest beer to come out of their collaboration, and he said, without hesitation, "Habanero IPA." That it sold exceptionally well is proof that with risk comes reward.

John, with "movie star" good looks...
John also allowed that their beer menu is varied and wide, as Vault Brewing wants to provide something for everyone. A look at what's currently on tap on their website will verify that approach. I had a St. Cecelia's bitter, and it was delightful and right on style. At 4.4%, it's as good a session beer as you'll find.

Their growing clientele, in the 30-45 demographic, appreciates good food, good beer and a great atmosphere. They also seem to appreciate the fact that there are no TV's in the place. That was by design. The owners want their guests to interact with each other, and as I strolled through the place, that's exactly what they were doing, though looking somewhat askance at me. But I'm used to that.

With James spending the day at the Jersey Shore, I asked John two final questions. First, where do you see Vault Brewing five years from now? He allowed that that had been a recent subject of discussion, but said that they would like to see "horizontal growth," meaning more locations, and/or a wider distribution for their beer if the bottling system can handle it.

9% Barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout
And it was, ironically, because of a bottled beer that The PubScout visited Vault Brewing today. Every Sunday the brothers plan to sell specially bottled beer to the public, with a limit of two per customer. Today's offering was a 9% Barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout. So there I was.

Final question: Are you having fun?
And a broadly smiling John Cain replied, "It's hard not to."

If you go, turn off PA Rt.32 onto E. Afton, go over a small bridge, then look for Canal St. on your left. That's the easiest way to park right behind the place.

And if you get invited to visit the Vault, make sure the guy inviting you isn't named Montresor.

Cheers! The PubScout

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Little Horn Tootin'

Farmer Ben
The second issue of the Garden State's newest glossy beer magazine--NJ Brew--has hit the stands. It's free in a wide variety of locations. Pick one up; it will look good on your coffee table, your bar or even in your Loo Library.

And, for the second issue in a row, yours truly has a featured column within the wealth of beer stuff. It's called Farmer Ben's Grains, and you can read the online version of it right here.

Get with the beer scene in Jersey at New Jersey Brew!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Everything Old is New Again

I was watching an episode of Bar Rescue, starring everybody's favorite wild-eyed wild man, Jon Taffer. Though I disagree with his advice about serving beer ice cold, I enjoy the show, if for no other reason than to watch people far more dysfunctional than I interacting in bars.

But on this episode, one of Taffer's bartender "experts" created a drink to be shared by three people using three different straws. Apart from the "backwash" issues such an arrangement might cause, I was immediately struck by the visual image of multiple straws in a drink.

For that is exactly how citizens of one of my favorite ancient world cultures--Sumer--drank their beer. Of course, it had to be flavored, usually with honey, to be a bit more palatable than it was, but the communal concept was the same.

That those Sumerians
--who also invented writing, probably to keep track of their beer supplies--probably had no idea how their beer actually became alcoholic beer was inconsequential. They knew it did, they probably didn't care how and they liked how it made them feel. So much so that Hammurabi's Code prescribed death for purveyors of watered down beer, and that death was typically Hammurabian--the offender was drowned in his own inferior product. Clearly, Hammy didn't play around when it came to his beer.

But those ancient brewers and beer lovers likely didn't realize that their prized commodity got that way because of wild yeasts flying around in the air. Today, of course, yeasts are cultivated, many of them in laboratories.
But now, homebrewers can "go ancient" by using wild yeasts instead of lab-created ones to ferment their product.

Women did the brewing in Sumer
Ever on the lookout for cool beer information, I came across this excellent column by Heather Vandenengel which explains just how the adventurous homebrewer can go "back to the future." Buying a wild yeast kit can get them where they want to go. And some who have done it seem to enjoy the local flavor of local yeasts.

The question is, will lovers of good beer want to come along for the ride?
The PubScout thinks they will.

Cheers! The PubScout

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mulshine on the Money, as Usual

Paul Mulshine and two devoted followers at a beer event
--NOT in Hoboken

My beer buddy Paul Mulshine has penned an excellent column about Hoboken and its parking scams  programs.

As I mentioned in this column last year, Hoboken is a great place, as long as you don't have a car.

It's good to see a beer guy with far more clout than I have calling these people out, too. Check out Paul's column, and be sure to read  the comments.

Why anyone would complain about a guy calling out governmental scams programs is beyond me.

They must be canoe-beer drinkers.

Cheers! The PubScout

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PFP at WOB with SA for ACBW

Kaz toasts to good health!
Huh? What are those acronyms? Read the next sentence, and see if you can figure them out for yourself.

As far as the PubScout is concerned, every week is American Craft Beer Week, and he certainly doesn't need an excuse to visit the World of Beer in New Brunswick, especially on a night dedicated to a great cause-- Pints for Prostates. And he needs no special prodding to drink Sam Adams fine beers, of which there were eight very special examples on tap.
Got it? Thought so.
Go pour yourself a quality beer as a reward.

The Grumpy Monk was in the house...
And apparently my sentiments were shared by a large, raucous beer-loving crowd, as the WOB was filled and hopping last night.
WOB owner Kelly Andre, Shore Point Distributor Wizard Gary Rosen and peripatetic Sam Adams Rep Brandon (his last name, like his beer preference, is classified information) combined their talents and good offices to do three things: promote good beer, spread the word about early testing for prostate cancer and raise money for a great beer-cause--Pints for Prostates.

The PubScout and Gary Rosen
With generous charitable donations from WOB, Sam Adams and Shorepoint, and a host of goods available for purchase by customers--with all proceeds going to PFP, the event was a fitting example of what folks in the craft beer business do far more frequently than people know--they give back.

Last night's deal for purchase of items was simple: go pick up what you like, then give a donation to the cause--you choose the amount.

Donors examine the merchandise

So enjoy that beer you poured yourself. And if you're a male older than 40, get tested. If there's a male over 40 you care about, tell them to get tested. Because--no joke-- early detection is a lifesaver. Take it from one who has been there.
There aren't many life moments more unsettling than when your doctor says, "You have cancer" in any form. But prostate cancer has an exceptional recovery record in many cases if detected early.

And because this is my blog, I can put in a plug for some very special people at a very special place that oversaw my journey to recovery: The ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Somerset, NJ.

Get tested.
Because survivors get to drink more beer...

True dat...
The PubScout

Check out Gary Rosen's welcoming speech here!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Yardley, PA Worth a Beer Lover's Time

It's two-wheel time again, and the Bucks County area calls me frequently. I usually eschew the touristy New Hope and Lambertville spots using Yogi Berra's classic line:
"Nobody goes there anymore--it's too crowded."

If I'm not heading to Stockton, Frenchtown, Milford or Riegelsville up north, I usually hit Titusville, Newtown and other spots further south. You can read about Jersey's Patriot's Crossing in Titusville here, and you can learn about a young lady named Andrea Lynn who I met in Isaac Newton's in Newtown here.

At the Washington Crossing Brewfest last week, I met Frank Lyons who owns the 150 year-old Continental Tavern in Yardley, and he invited me down for a chat. So after crossing the river at Washington's Crossing today, I hung a left on PA 32 and headed for Yardley.
Vickie of The Continental Tavern

As fate would have it, Frank was off premises, as was his beer man Ross, but a bevy of beautiful beers served by pleasant female servers were definitely in the house. The tavern itself has a Revolutionary ambience throughout, so much so that you just "know" Revolutionary stuff went down here, even though it was restored to the way it looked in 1877. And I didn't even get to see the secret "Underground Tunnel" in the kitchen.

My bar server Vickie testified that it was indeed there, though. But she did show me a list of beers that had to amount to at least 150  bottles, not counting what was on tap. Those beers were topnotch and varied: Rogue Dead Guy, RJ Rockers Peachy King (9%), Bell's Oberon, Stella, Hoegaarden, Guinness, Deschutes Black Butte, Laughing Dog Sneaky Pete Imperial IPA (10%), Left Hand Milk Stout, Anchor Liberty Ale andYuengling. (Hey, it's Pennsy.) I had come a few days too late to try the Troeg's Scratch Series Session IPA out of a firkin at the bar.

I opted for a Left Hand Milk Stout (($7.50) to match up with my sweet Chili Wings (10 wings for $10). Both were excellent.

As I was enjoying that stout, I recalled that Andrea Lynn from the story above said she lived near Vault Brewing in Yardley, so I asked Vickie where it was.

"Two buildings down," she offered.

So I paid my tab and ambled out, walking the 100 feet to what looked like a bank.

The sign said it didn't open for business until 4 PM, which eliminates it as a lunch place, but the door was open, so I walked in. I immediately met the core of Vault Brewing, including owner James Cain. His brother John is co-owner. And they have definite ideas about what they want their establishment to be--and NOT be.

James Cain
We chatted for a bit and exchanged contact info, and I told him I would be back to do a full review very soon. There is much on the menu that I suspect would pique the appetite of the missus.

On James's website, I learned that the striking interior of the Vault was devoid of TV's, as TV's detract from interaction with other patrons, something which the Vault encourages.

The Vault's stunning interior

I think that's a great idea. And the fact that your beer travels just fifteen feet from the kettle to your glass is another positive.

Now if they would only confiscate peoples' cell phones and lock them away in a Vault for the duration of the visit, we might get some real interaction...

Stay tuned for the follow up review, but by all means, check out the quaint town of Yardley, PA. In the words of Arnold Schwarzbier, "I'll be bock."

Cheers! The PubScout

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pints for Prostates Event Set for World of Beer

Good beer, good cause! From the World of Beer's facebook page:
"And the hits keep on coming!!!! Samuel Adams Tap Takeover this Tuesday, May 13 with 8 of their best taps they ever created, with prizes, giveaways and games. We teamed up with Samuel Adams and Shore Point Distributing to raise money for the charity Pints for Prostates, where we will be selling bracelets and glassware, and all of the proceeds will be donated for a good cause.
Every penny we raise will be donated and will be matched by Samuel Adams and Shore Point.
So come on down and enjoy some great beer by one of the world's best breweries, have some fun, play some games, get free stuff and help raise money and awareness for a good cause!!!!

See you in New Brunswick on Tuesday!
Cheers! The PubScout

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

R.I.P. Damien Owens...

Damien Owens
The PubScout raises his pint tonight to Damien Owens, the garrulous, amiable, salt-of-the-earth manager of Cranford's Kilkenny House.

He was genuine, old school and a class act in every way. Our loss is Heaven's gain. God is in for a treat.

Damien Owens

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Gannon Notches his Brown Betty--Again

First in line!
The turgid, turbid, fast-running Delaware River roiled along twenty feet below the embankment that housed the Fourth Annual Washington's Crossing Brewfest on Saturday. If General Washington had tried to row across to Trenton on this day instead of December 25, 1776, his army would have wound up in Delaware Bay.

Luckily, such turmoil was nowhere to be found above the river at the 4th Annual Washington's Crossing Brewfest, thanks to Tim Gannon. The guy responsible for yet another successful event toils regularly behind Isaac Newton's bar in--appropriately--Newtown, PA. His beer savvy-ness is one of the reasons Newton's is a mecca for craft beer lovers, and the same can be said for this beer event.
Tim Gannon and his dad

While most of the sixty-five beermakers were repeat participants, there were a few newbies on hand as well. Jersey's The Ship Inn, Funk Brewing, Springhouse, Saucony Creek and DuClaw were among them. There were, in fact, so many good breweries with great beers on hand, that a true cerevisaphile would have needed four days--not just four hours--to get his fill. And Gannon was responsible for getting them there, no small feat.

The opening ceremonies were identical to last year's, with four Continentals standing in a Durham boat firing their Brown Bettys in the direction of Lambertville on the Jersey side.No injuries were reported.

The PubScout was delighted to see that Yard's had BOTH of his favorites there--Washington's Tavern Porter and Jefferson's Tavern Ale. Prism's Bitto Honey, 21st Amendment's Almond Milk Porter, Firestone Walker's Velvet Merkin and DuClaw's Oak Aged Serum were just a small fraction of brews worth waiting in line for. And, to the credit of those behind the taps, those lines moved pretty quickly.
Ready for the WCB

The lines to get in for the 12:30 opening began forming at 11:45, and by noon, the winding line resembled the Continental Army on the march. Glenn Blakely, the usual Colonial MC was at another re-enactment event, so John Godzieba, who portrays General Washington at the annual crossing reenactment was on duty. There's an interesting documentary about how John got picked to be General Washington here. But on this day, he was a jack-of-all-trades whose duty it was, at times, to guide those with beer-filled bladders to an open loo. He took this job just as seriously as he takes crossing the Delaware. Those lines moved pretty quickly, too, though I did espy one impatient chap named Larry who clambered down the embankment to help make the Delaware even more turbid.
"General" John Godzieba

The coveted PubScout Prize for best beer name, however, went to Naked Brewery for their coriander/black pepper flavored saison named, oddly, Le Petomane. Use that link to learn more--if you dare. Naked Brewing's brewer, Matt "Lothar" Knuttel, told the owners what the name meant only after they had gone through the labeling process. The owners allowed that The PubScout was one of only two people ever to know who Le Petomane was...which should tell you something. The saison was pretty good, too, though The PubScout preferred
last year's Naked Brewing servers....

Doug Miller and his brew buddy Glenn were on hand demonstrating 17th Century brewing techniques to a plethora of interested passersby, some of whom were homebrewers who attend the Pennsbury Manor Brewing Demonstration. The next one there will be on June 14. Check out for details. Tell Doug The PubScout sent you.

In all, it was yet another sparkling afternoon of good beer and good people. If you are a lover of both, be sure to get to next year's. See more pictures here.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ole Mole!

The menu for Trap Rock's May 6 beer dinner collaboration with Triumph Brewing is now available for viewing. Seats are sold out, but there is a wait list.

With this lineup, it might pay to grab a sarape and a sombrero and sit outside. Or you could just sign up for the wait list!

Cheers! The PubScout