Who Brews Canobolas Beers?

March 18, 2024, by Benedict "Benny" Kennedy-Cox

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Who Brews Canobolas Beers?

For locals and those visiting Orange, a stop at the Mad Hatter Drink Lab is a cute and curious experience: a cozy little courtyard with room for 80, a sizzling burger-focused food truck, a bright bar space bursting with greenery and 20 taps of locally produced RTDs, wine and beer, the latter made on premises by Canobolas Brewing.

What's more, as you’re pondering which of the many drinks on offer will be your next, you hear the voice of head brewer Jeff Vaughn and find yourself asking: "What is an American doing all the way out here?"

“It was literally an overnight decision to come here,” he says.

“I had a job in the Yakima Valley, in Washington State, so I did a vintage in Orange to make enough money to move there. I’ve been here five years – my six month adventure in Australia and New Zealand has been five years.”

Jeff’s first home, the Walla Walla region of Washington State, is mountainous wine country where the seven breweries and five distilleries (at time of writing) are completely outnumbered by more than 200 vineyards. As for his current home, it's not just wine-making or the fact his adventure in Australia includes getting married and starting a family here that are the draw, it’s Orange itself.

“This place reminds me of the town I grew up in,” Jeff says. “I appreciate how close it is to the metropolitan areas: a three-hour drive to Canberra and Western Sydney, only a four-hour drive to the beach which I had back home. There are four seasons here, none of which are extreme.

“I really enjoy being here. It's a great little town, I really understand why so many people have moved here.”

Years of study, homebrewing and operating his own brewery in Oregon prepared Jeff well for his stay in the Central West, which involved a three years at Pioneer Brewing before that closed last year and saw him take on the head brewer job at Canobolas Brewing. Named for the nearby extinct volcano that’s part of the Great Dividing Range, it's part of the Mad Hatter Drinks Lab where wine and RTDs are also made.

With Badlands Brewery now operating their taproom just a few hundred metres away, this region best known for wine is becoming rather appealing for beer tourist too. To find out more, we invited Jeff to join us for this entry in our Who Brews…? series.


Canobolas Brewing

Jeff Vaughn behind the bar at Canobolas Brewing's home in Orange.

 

Who are you?

I’ve spent nearly my entire adult life brewing, winemaking and distilling. Other than some small stints between jobs and during the peak of the pandemic where I worked on a sheep and cattle station for seven months, the entirety of the last 12 years has been spent on a production floor.

I joined Canobolas Brewing Company as the head brewer in May of 2023 and we swiftly kicked off production.


Where do you brew?

Canobolas Brewing Co has its own dedicated brewery at the Mad Hatter Drink Lab, 147 Lords Place, Orange.


Why do you brew?

Why do I brew? It’s pure passion, it’s savouring the next bitter sip of wort and the smell of freshly milled grain going into the mash.

It’s the other brewers you meet along the way and whinge about trivial industry matters while our spouses roll their eyes because we don’t turn off.

It’s enjoying the fruit of your labour with patrons and discussing the nuances from that single hop variety made in that lager.


Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?

I was an 18-year-old uni student back home in Oregon studying architecture. I was spending an evening “studying”, watching everyone's favourite free streaming service, and stumbled across the show Brew Masters. I saw Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewing discussing philosophy and how beer was made and talked about homebrewing. 

I didn’t know how beer was made. I didn’t know I could make beer at home. Then the lightbulb went off and I bought an extract kit online immediately. 

I thought I was just going to fulfil the needs of many young adults in the US. But from the moment the wort was cooling and it was going into the fermenter, even though that first beer was downright awful, I was hooked. 

So, like any other aspiring young brewer, I dropped out of uni and moved back home where I promptly got a position at a winery and started at my first brewery a year later – and the rest is history.


What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?

Mount Canobolas is arguably one of the largest defining features of the Orange region and, like Mount Canobolas, we wanted to create a defining business that can capture the beauties of the region and have a brand that reflected the community we were a part of. 

 


What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?

It’s between two because of two different philosophies: Our West Coast Hazy – a 65 IBU Pacific Northwest-inspired hazy pale and our Old Man Ale – an English dark mild.

When New England IPAs started making their way westbound around 2013, we didn’t really know what all the fuss was about. We were busy making 80 to 100 IBU resin monsters and tinnies of Heady Topper, Treehouse or Trillium were nowhere in sight so, for a very short time, we all just made the assumption that NEIPAs were just West Coast inspired IPAs with a bit of adjunct and no finings. 

This version, however, is the evolution of the mistakes we learned along the way. A nod to the region in which I grew up in and a different take on a crowd favourite. 

When it came to looking at building a core range for our brewery, I wanted to build up a small portfolio that fits our surroundings. So I went searching for a style of beer I could play with; as we started building our current core range, I always follow a quote by another brewer: “A good beer is one that the drinker can think about if they wish, but doesn’t have to if they don’t." I wanted to create a beer that was an accessory to life.

So we looked at an English dark mild (or to put it simply an old ale). I looked at adding nuance by using some smaller percentages of unique malts from Voyager and then rounding it off with a small dry-hopping charge of Bramling Cross to make a light-bodied but nuanced, extremely drinkable dark ale.


If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?

Alan Sprints, founder of Hair of the Dog Brewing in Portland.

I never had an opportunity to meet Alan over the years while brewing in the Pacific Northwest but his creations were always my favourite. Every time I would be in Portland, Oregon, I’d make it a mission to stop into the tasting room. He paved his own path where he built a great following. 

His high gravity beers and his unique conditioning practices were awe-inspiring and a constant form of inspiration. In my opinion, much like the Grossmans, Maytags, Calagiones, and Cilurzos of the brewing world, Alan Sprints is a true brewing pioneer.


If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?

The exciting sounds of me catching up to brewing podcasts. Learning never stops.

 


What beers are in your fridge right now?

Wildflower St Phoebe 2022, Holgate Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Slow Lane Botany Weisse Apricot Mix Ferm, Deeds Fade into Darkness, 8 Wired Rendition of the Devil, 30+ cans of Pioneer Saison, an absolute shit tonne of US imperial stouts and various other projects I’ve worked on.


What would be your desert island beer of choice?

Fresh and cool Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in glass bottles straight from Chico.


Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?

Notably the bottle-released Fruited Saisons by Cosmo Brewing that just recently hit the shelves, and Badlands Brewing’s Mexican Nitro Stout at their new taproom. The Monkey Bar in Dubbo also has some wonderful small batch stuff out of their Pilot Room that I would highly recommend.


Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?

I’m a very big fan of using as local, high quality ingredients as possible. We’re very fortunate to have Voyager Malt not too far away – six hours – and the team there has been essential to us making some beer we’re really happy with. I’m looking forward to the hopeful expansion of hop farms and even the talks of more yeast producers popping up. 


Where can people find your beers?

Online in our retail shop, local stockists around the Central West and, of course, during our operating hours at our Taproom located just a block off the CBD in Orange.


Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?

In ten years, I’m hoping to ride the tide of making some awesome lagers and building a really solid lagering program for some tasty, crispy beverages, while also incorporating more localised ingredients.


You can sample Jeff's beers at source in 147 Lords Place, Orange. You'll also find Canobolas Brewing alongside hundreds of breweries and beer venues in the free Crafty Pint app.

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