It’s been a long time coming. After an initial announcement in 2018, Republic of Fremantle has opened in a sprawling warehouse in Freo’s west end. (The venue was due to open last autumn, in time for the release of its first spirits, but Covid had other plans.)
The distillery, which launched in December, is a joint venture between Fremantle locals Jason Townes and Matt Giudice (the partners behind Fremantle’s Ronnie Nights and Strange Company) and John McVeigh.
Master distiller Ollie Kitson moved from the UK to take on a role overseeing the imposing, state-of-the-art Müller still, which was custom-made in Germany. While most distilleries bring in grain-based spirits to make their vodka and gin, Republic of Fremantle makes its own grape-based spirit using verdelho grapes from Oakover in the Swan Valley (chosen for its flavour characteristics and ability to produce a high-ABV wine).
“Using wine as a starting point is quite a unique thing to do, and it allows us to create something really elegant,” says Kitson. “We wouldn’t be able to do that in France, Germany or the UK due to the rules and regulations. Here there’s a much freer rein to play around with different styles.”
The distillery currently produces one vodka and two gins – Full-Bodied and Aromatic – which use very different recipes. While both use the standard gin botanicals of juniper and coriander seed, the popular Aromatic variety aims to capture what Kitson describes as the “quintessential Australian character of a riesling”.
“We thought it would be a really nice thing to celebrate in a contemporary-style gin,” he explains. “We add lemon peel, lemongrass and apricot to the still, leave it to macerate overnight, and the next day add ginger and lavender. Then it goes through a botanical basket containing grapefruit peel and pink lady apples. You get a real citrus hit on the nose.”
The public face of Republic of Fremantle is a sleek cocktail bar designed by leading Fremantle-based architects Spaceagency and overseen by head of hospitality James Pennefather (formerly of Bobeche and Tiny’s). The venue currently seats 100, with additional space to be added later this year on both the distillery floor and the mezzanine. The final capacity will be 300.
“The aim is to be a cocktail bar with a neighbourhood focus,” says Pennefather. “There are a lot of places in Freo that are a bit left-of-centre. We’re trying to be something for everyone rather than too weird and wonderful.”
Food is by no means overlooked, with the bar menu comprising a selection of sophisticated snacks and sharing plates including prawn toast; house-made crumpets with smoked roe, tomato, crème fraîche and spring onion; raw beef with mushroom and burnt butter; and a salad of stracciatella, nectarine, bitter leaf and dill. A tasting menu is available for those more focused on the drinks.
Head chef Emily Jones was working as a kitchen intern at Norwegian restaurant Maaemo – formerly a three-Michelin starred venue – when she had to return home due to Covid. (Her resume also includes stints at Wildflower and Cook & Mason.)
Ingredients are sourced from well-known local suppliers including The Mushroom Guys, Warren Grange (tomatoes), La Delizia Latticini (cheese) and Green World Revolution (micro herbs). All beef used is Futari Wagyu.
Cocktails showcase the house-made spirits, from well-known standards to some innovative numbers using “newer techniques and pushing the boundaries”, according to Pennefather. Retail bottle sales are also available. A selection of classic cocktails – think Martinis and Negronis – are pre-batched in 750-mill and 500-mill bottles and designed for sharing.
“A lot of our menu is about sharing cocktails I’ve always found a bit singular. You go up to a bar, you order a cocktail and your mate orders another one. You all have a very different drinking experience,” says Pennefather. “We really want to emphasise the communal style of eating and drinking.”
Republic of Fremantle
3 Pakenham Street, Fremantle
Wed to Sun 12pm–late