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Mark Thomas on Expansion and Constant Improvement at Vault Brewing Company

Vault Brewing Company is housed in a sleek space in the small town of Yardley. Its modest space is home to carefully crafted beverages—from a New Zealand IPA to coffee stouts and even cold brew coffee—plus an offbeat menu of specialty pizzas and sandwiches, such as brown sugar buffalo pizza and waffle grilled cheese. Nearby, Vault is increasing its keg and can distribution with a newly opened production facility.

We spoke with brewmaster Mark Thomas about the challenges of outgrowing the first space, his approach to brewing and what it’s like to be nominated for Philly Beer Scene’s Brewer of the Year award.

Tell us about Vault Brewing Company. What is your annual production and what size system are you working on?

We opened in fall of 2012 as a brewpub specializing in unique twists on classic beer styles and serving handcrafted pizzas and small plates from our wood-fired pizza oven. We take pride in the fact that all of our of beer is unfiltered and exclusively whole flower hopped, without the use of finings or extracts. Our original 8.5-barrel brewhouse was able to put out 750 barrels of 35 unique beers in 2016. At the beginning of 2017, we opened our new production facility located two blocks away from the brewpub in Yardley. We are planning to do more than 2,000 barrels with our new 20-barrel brewhouse this year, while expanding our distribution within the tristate area and growing our capacity organically as we gain experience and exposure in the retail market.

What has your career in craft beer been like? You have a degree in information technology and worked at IBM in information security for a few years. How has your background in technology informed your brewing methods?

I started in beer as a homebrewer more than 15 years ago due to my love of the DIY. I steadily increased my knowledge and capacity, working toward making brewing my career; then, I met the Cain brothers, future owners of Vault Brewing. They handed me the keys to the brewing and beer side of the operation, while they focused on the restaurant and business side. Since the beginning, my approach has been constant learning by doing, much like the ever-evolving world of technology. They both require strong problem-solving skills, since entropy likes to play games with me, and cannot be avoided. I have attempted to bring our customers along for the journey by making experimentation and the free exchange of information as the core of our beer vision.

Vault offers a wide variety of styles in cans—IPAs, Belgians, nitro stouts and even cold brew coffee. What are some of your favorite styles of beer (or beverages in general) to brew and drink?

I love to brew classic styles that utilize process or ingredients that are lost to the march of progress. While technology in beer has brought us better understanding, vastly more efficient processes, exciting new ingredients and overall better living through chemistry, it passes over anything not aligning with its vision in favor of the “new.” When dealing with something as personal as taste and experience, I find the attention to detail and doing it the hard way makes that small amount of “je ne sais quoi” that makes our beer unique. Our beer is like heavyweight new vinyl pressings in the world of digital mp3 craft beer. To drink, I can’t help but gravitate towards stouts.

Vault’s space in Yardley is unique—located in an old bank. You’ve also made great use of the space with the fermenters directly behind the bar. What’s it like working in a space with so much history and is very close quarters?

Our physical space at the brewpub is very striking, and puts the customer into the middle of both the brewing and cooking process. An open brewery requires you to work as somewhat of a performance artist, because at any time you have an attentive audience. As beautiful as our restoration of the 1889 Yardley National Bank has been, it is definitely not designed for the beer production. Multiple levels, four-foot stone walls and floors, no loading doors and shared minimal working space has us thankful for our spacious new production facility. Being able to now spray down a tank and floor with abandon is something I do not take for granted! Beer lovers can check it out on a tour. I’m told Richard Bolster, one of our brewers, gives one of the best brewery tours in the area.

You were nominated for Brewer of the Year in this year’s Philly Beer Scene awards. How does it feel to be recognized for your recipes and brews? What beers are you especially proud of creating over the past year?

It feels rewarding and humbling that people are starting to pay attention to the work I’m doing everyday in the brewhouse. Recipes and brewing allow me to express my creative side, but I believe the Brewer of the Year award captures the sheer force of will you need to wrestle the chaos involved in bringing a beer vision to the world. I don’t get too sentimental toward past beers because I take pride in working to make the next one better than the last. I view every beer I brew as a child, and a quote I will steal is, “You love them all, but some you like more than others.”

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The Brewers of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit trade association that brings together leaders of Pennsylvania-based breweries in order to promote and protect the brewing industry in the state. Established in 2011, the Brewers of Pennsylvania serves the consuming public of Pennsylvania by encouraging brand diversity in the market. We believe in the nobility of brewing and hold dear the great traditions and history of Pennsylvania brewing.

Jay Breslin

Photos, top to bottom: Philly Beer Scene, John Williams, Philly Beer Scene, Vault Brewing Company,