At The Gospel, we recognise our responsibility to operate in a responsible manner and to be conscious of our environmental footprint. As a growing young business, we continue to learn and evolve, finding more sustainable and socially considered ways of doing things.
Spent wash (also known as pot ale) is a by-product of whiskey production. Rye grain mash runs through our purpose-built column still, separating the alcohol from the grain, leaving behind a wash (traditionally a waste product). In line with our sustainability ethos, we give the wash to a local farmer for animal feed (it’s rich in protein), completely diverting it from waste. As part of our innovation program, we also considered other ways to upcycle the distilling by-product and decided to collaborate with local soap maker Brunswick Soap House to make spent grain soap bars.
Brunswick Soap House is a small Brunswick based business producing handmade soaps with natural colours, essential oils and organic botanicals. Our collaboration is a celebration of sustainability and innovation and further builds our connection with the local Brunswick community.
As part of our Whiskey Soap Bar release, we chatted to Soap Maker and Founder Fiona Komninos, to uncover her passion for soap making and why working with her hands and the Brunswick community is so important to her. Check the interview below.
Whiskey Soap Bars being made from spent wash // IMAGE: Brunswick Soap House
-- What is your first memory of being creative?
When I was in about Grade 2, I remember being a creative cook. After a long day at school, I would come home and head straight to the kitchen to make soups, as well as cut and peel vegetables to help my mum who worked until 5pm. I also loved to bake simple cakes and cookies.
-- What inspires you & your creativity?
I love learning new things and I believe that naturally fosters my creativity. The use of natural and organic produce inspires me. I love mixing natural-coloured clays with organic botanicals and essential oils. I love growing produce in my garden that can be used in soap. When you do the whole process yourself, it feels rewarding.
-- How did you get into soap making?
I was looking for natural soap made with organic ingredients, without synthetic fragrances and cosmetic colours, which was important to me. It led me to explore the idea of making my own soap and I discovered it was quite scientific! I studied the topic for months to understand all the intricacies of soap making, and ever since then I’ve been making my own soap.
-- When and why did you start Brunswick Soap House?
It was around 2015. I originally made soap just for myself but it caught the attention of friends and family who noticed when they came over to visit. So, I gifted a few bars but some friends insisted on paying me for it. Word of mouth started to spread – my friends would buy for their friends, special requests started trickling in, and before I knew it, I had an order for a hundred bars, and then a thousand! And so, it was then that Brunswick Soap House was born.
-- Was it an easy or hard decision to start your own business?
It was a hobby that got way out of hand – I didn't have much time to think about it as the demand was there. I just went with the flow. I ordered equipment and moved to a bigger space when I had to increase manufacturing. Upon reflection, I guess it was easy to start my own business as the risk was minimal. I always knew I would struggle keeping up with the internet and building a website (which is still yet to come 6 years on). I do majority of the manufacturing myself – I really love that aspect of the business but the tech side of it, well, hmm, I'll do that tomorrow.
-- How does it feel to work with your hands?
I absolutely love working with my hands! Nearly every job I’ve had involved it in some way. For me, it is a satisfying process to have a creation in mind and then be able to put it together with your own hands. I honestly couldn’t think of doing anything else.
Soap experimenting with spent wash liquid and dried out grain // IMAGE: Brunswick Soap House
-- Tell us about the process for making the Whiskey Soap Bars?
I usually start the process by making a 10 bar (1kg of oil) test batch but with the spent wash, I did two. One was using just the spent grain, after the wash liquid had been drained and the grains were dried out. The other test batch retained some of the liquid the spent grain was in – I wanted to see if it would colour the soap differently. After receiving the spent wash, I froze it straight away to keep it fresh. On the day of making the soap I defrosted it and brought it to a boil. Once it became a thicker syrup, I replaced a quarter amount of water needed to make the soap with the syrup.
-- Other than using our whiskey spent waste, is there anything else interesting that you’ve used in your soaps? Any experiments gone wrong?
At home I grow a variety of different things to use in soap such as Aloe Vera and cucumbers. I make my own peel powders from orange and pink grapefruit, and occasionally dry flowers too. I've also made beer soap for local breweries, honey soap for a beekeeper and coffee soap using the house blend of local cafes. I’ve definitely had a few ‘oopsies’ moments but luckily soap can be saved most of the time. On the rare occasion this hasn’t been the case, it gives me something to look back, reflect on and laugh at. It serves as a reminder to not make the same mistake twice!
Orange peel is made into powder // IMAGE: Brunswick Soap House
-- Does Brunswick have an influence on your work? What excites you about Brunswick community?
Brunswick and wider Melbourne does influence my work in many aspects. People have been encouraging when it comes to using natural ingredients, often requesting recycled packaging or no packaging at all. It feels like a very sustainable and socially conscious community to be a part of. I love collaborating with other makers – Brunswick has such a diverse group of artisan makers and the community has really supported and embraced the ‘shop local’ mentality.
-- What is your favourite place to go in Brunswick?
Believe it or not it is a small park on Donald Street called Pooley Reserve. I grew up in that area and I have so many good memories there. I still visit it regularly.
-- What's your favourite hidden gem in Brunswick?
There are so many hidden gems! I love all the old milk bars that I remember fondly from my childhood, which have now turned into amazing little coffee spots, such as A Minor Place on the corner of Barrow and Albion Streets – I used to go there when it was Horner’s Milk Bar. Occasionally I like to treat myself and go to Lux Foundry – pre-covid, I always opted to meet clients here. I have so many places I love going to and so many on my list still to try.
-- Besides soap making, is there anything else you are passionate about?
I am also a passionate dressmaker. I was teaching patternmaking and sewing skills in our local area previously. I find sewing soothing for the soul.
MAIN IMAGE: After the spent wash liquid had been drained and the grains were dried out // PHOTO: Brunswick Soap House
Work in a local business with another idea for our spent grain? Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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