Ollie Kitson loves science. A childhood in the UK spent watching educational kids’ TV inspired him to study chemistry in high school and university. Initially, he flirted with the idea of becoming a pharmacologist, but switched to studying brewing and distilling in Edinburgh instead.
After graduating, he worked at small-scale British breweries before joining the then-emerging Sipsmith in 2014 as head distiller of the boutique London distillery. Fast forward five years through an international craft distilling boom, and Kitson has swapped the bright lights of London for a new life in Western Australia with warm weather, blue waters and a position as founding distiller of new urban distillery Republic of Fremantle.
While Republic of Fremantle is an ambitious venture – the facility is housed in a sprawling warehouse in Freo’s west end and will feature a distillery as well as a hospitality venue with room for 350 people – the operation’s most telling detail is its commitment to DIY.
“Most gin distilleries buy in neutral spirit and redistil that into gin, whereas we’re part of the one per cent of distilleries that are crafting their own spirit,” says Kitson.
The distillery starts with Australian white wine (not red, since “the tannins carry through to the final spirit”) that gets aerated before being distilled into a spirit comparable to pisco, South America’s famous grape-based brandy. Part of this spirit is blended with water to produce Republic of Fremantle’s vodka; the rest is distilled in a dedicated gin still to produce two expressions of the juniper-forward spirit. One, inspired by white wine, is citrusy and designed to be used in gins and tonics. The second, inspired by full-bodied shiraz wines, is a spicier, more robust spirit designed for Negronis. The vodka and two gins will be released in March, and the full facility will open soon after.
Ahead of the spirit’s release, Republic of Fremantle is selling "citizenship" memberships that include awards such as bottles of gin, distillery tours and masterclasses. Three different membership tiers are available.
Although this is Kitson’s first distilling job in Australia, he’s long admired the nation’s attitude to making alcohol, from beer brewers to distillers.
“It’s uniquely Australian, the way people are going about creating these new products,” he says. “They’re not following the British or American model, Aussies generally want to do things their way. They’re being driven by consumers as much as producers. It’s really interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with down the line.”
The distillery’s name is no marketing stunt. The project is a joint venture between Fremantle locals, Jason Townes and Matt Giudice (the partners behind Fremantle venues Ronnie Nights and Strange Company) and John McVeigh, while Michael Patroni of Fremantle-based architecture firm Spaceagency is behind the design.
Republic of Fremantle releases its first range of spirits in March, with the hospitality venue to launch soon after.