Let’s be frank: the label “damaged goods” doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence. Tim Laferla and Pia Papenfuss want to change that.
For the past 18 months, the hospitality couple (she’s a chef, he’s a bartender) have been fine-tuning a concept for a distillery that uses “waste” and unwanted ingredients to create delicious liquor. In October, all will be revealed when Damaged Goods Distilling Co – a microdistillery and tasting room – opens in the Swan Valley.
Taking over a former grocer’s storeroom, Damaged Goods comes across as slick and confident. A high ceiling and wall-mounted copper piping give the room a suitably industrial edge. The stark interior is an endorsement for both less-is-more thinking and clever recycling. Retired fence palings have been born again as tables while the tasting bench’s white plastic counter is made of recycled shampoo bottles. If the weather’s nice, the roller door will be up, bringing in the vineyards, the sounds of the Great Northern Highway and the afternoon breeze.
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The room’s main attraction, though, is the locally made 330-litre copper still – a key component of this couple’s mission to find purpose in surplus. Equally important are the rescued ingredients stockpiled here. The spent citrus husks that Laferla gathers from juicing companies Citrus WA and Pressed Earth in reusable white plastic buckets. The apple pulp from nearby Funk Cider. The unwanted bananas grown in Carnarvon that are deemed unfit-for-sale by supermarkets. To many, these ingredients would be classified as “waste”. But to team Papenfuss-Laferla, they spell opportunity.
“To make the best-quality products, you need to use the best-quality ingredients, which makes sense,” says Laferla, a Perth bartender who, after helping open Mechanics Institute, set course for the UK in 2013. There, he worked with high-calibre chefs including Jason Atherton and Simon Rogan (Rogan recently brought his three-Michelin-starred restaurant L’Enclume to Sydney’s Bathers’ Pavilion for a five-week pop-up in August). “But my question is: how do you define best-quality ingredients? People are still stuck in this mentality that something has to look good to be good quality. Which is weird when you think about it because smell, aroma, taste and nutrition are what we should be judging food on, not what it looks like.”
It helps, of course, that both Laferla and Papenfuss – a Berlin-born cook who got into the industry as a teenager – have the know-how to help not-so-aesthetically taste like the very best versions of themselves. For Laferla, some of these upskilling ideas were gleaned while working with Matt Whiley of Sydney’s pioneering no-waste bar Re. For Papenfuss, it was time with Danielle Alvarez at Fred's in Sydney that drove home the possibilities of “offcuts”, not least that using an entire ingredient was a way to honour producers. Between them, they have a wide palette of ideas to draw on, whether that be kitchen techniques (fermenting and preserving) or layering flavours. Best of all, while they’re starting small, they’ve deliberately chosen “waste” that is plentiful and offers potential to grow.
“We’re trying to find waste products that allow us to scale [up],” says Papenfuss. “The more we scale, the more waste that we can take. That’s the dream. There’s no point in doing things on a small scale because it won’t really make too much of an impact. But at the end of the day, it’s inspiring to know that we can use waste products and not sacrifice on quality. And there’s more than enough waste product than we could ever dream of using.”
And their first releases? Promising. Very promising. Made using spent grapefruit, lemon, lime and orange shells, the gin booms with citrus and gives off strong Tanqueray 10 vibes. The apple aperitivo – a product that was made to utilise early gin distillation trials – uses apple pulp, a strawberry gum distillate and a dash of local Swan Valley grenache wine to create a properly lip-smacking drink. (In a neat nod to the liqueur’s origins, the couple suggest drinking the apertif as a long drink topped with Funk apple cider.) Those bananas meanwhile, are being used as the building blocks of a versatile vodka.
“We wanted something with bananas because they’re the most wasted fruit,” says Laferla. “But we didn’t want to cop out and just do a banana-flavoured liqueur.”
Just as the spirits are a little different, so too is the tasting experience at Damaged Goods. Guests that book in for tastings won’t just taste the spirits: they’ll also enjoy them in a series of small-serve cocktails that show off their versatility. While sustainability is part of this pair’s mission, hospitality is also part of the game. After all, if guests are the ones that are going to drive change, it’s important they have a good time, right?
“If consumers demand different things and vote with their feet and their dollars, then things change,” says Laferla. “I’m not asking anyone to change any of their habits. All they have to do is choose our product. That’s it.”
Damaged Goods Distilling Co
4/660 Great Northern Hwy, Herne Hill
0447 095 066