Fremantle is set to welcome its newest brewery and distillery next week as Running With Thieves nears completion.
Founded by Scott Douglas, Brooklyn Whelan and Pablo Frenkel, the 300-capacity venue will serve as a full brewery and distillery operation as well as a homebase for the company, which has been existence as a contract brand for a number of years.
“We were contract brewing before but now we’ve scraped money together, and got up and going during COVID.”
The founders, who have been friends for decades, have diverse backgrounds.
“Brooklyn went from painting trains to being a collectable Australian artist, Pabs has been in apparel, design and fashion, and he’s currently with Lacoste,” explained Douglas, who was previously at Black Brewing Co.
In fact, Running with Thieves started out as an apparel company before morphing into something very different, and has continued to outgrow the trio’s initial plans.
“We were originally going to do a pop-up. We thought everyone was going to be in lockdown until October, but we ended up doing more and more and we’ve got everything done we thought we wanted.”
Even the current venue at South Beach wasn’t in their original plans.
“We had a place in Freo which we had a development application on, but it never felt right. It didn’t feel like us, so we spent 12 months looking everywhere.
“A lot of people have looked at this spot, other brewers have looked at it and it’s pretty massive.
“It was a pretty massive project too, with no plumbing or water. The building is over 100 years old and it’s probably 50 times bigger than we needed! But we convinced the owners to lease it to us and they’ve been fantastic. Once we got into it, it got bigger and bigger.”
The team, headed by brewer Paul Gasmier, are brewing on a 25hL YoLong brewkit from China, a company which Douglas says are now a “known quantity” and that the team are stoked to be brewing on it.
With a growing brand behind it, Running with Thieves is already seeing demand for beer rise.
“It’s gone nuts since we’ve been brewing out of there, we’ve ordered more fermentation tanks, and have set it up for contract brewing having gone through it ourselves and knowing what it’s like for smaller breweries.
“We’ve invested heavily in packaging, and quality is a major part of what we’re focused on.”
The team has been brewing out of the South Beach site for the past six months, having scaled back contract brewing with a Newcastle business late last year.
Running with Thieves beers have been picked up in the last six weeks by Dan Murphy’s and BWS as well as Vintage Cellars, and to keep up, it has ordered another four tanks and serving tanks for front of house
“We’re kind of flat out and over capacity in the brewery at the moment,” Douglas said.
“It’s been unreal, it shows in the sales obviously, but since we opened the brewery we’ve had heaps of support. We already had that presence which has just accelerated, especially as everyone is trying to support local even more after COVID.”
Brewing and distilling
While many smaller breweries start as dream projects from avid homebrewers, the team at Running with Thieves has a commercial brewing background, with Scott Douglas having worked previously with Black Brewing Co. in the Margaret River region.
“And Paul, my brewer, he worked with me down south, so it’s kinda getting the band back together in a lot of ways,” he said.
Running with Thieves has become the latest iteration of big ideas Douglas had when he was at Black.
“The direction I wanted to go in was opposing, so it was easier to go and start again. And you can see the direction we’ve taken is different. It was the right move, allowing them to go off in another direction and do what’s right for them,” he said.
A major addition at Running with Thieves is the distillery component, which Douglas explained would enable the brand to diversify.
“[Paul and I] we just love doing different stuff and we’d played around with spirits a lot. We started doing it down south and we wanted to do it in a big way – you can’t do it half-arsed.”
Distilling and brewing have often gone hand-in-hand and Running with Thieves is planning a whisky line, with 200 new oak barrels on order.
“Even the way the brewery and distillery is set up it’s a big lab, it is designed to have fun in, as well as being a commercial enterprise.”
Running with Thieves is launching with a core range of beers including a 3.5% abv session ale, a ginger beer, a stout, an easy-drinking lager, IPA, XPA and a hazy pale.
And with a packaging line from Alpha the brewery is fully set up, and Douglas already has plans to diversify.
“The next stage is to start doing crafted cocktails and RTDs, that’s what we’ve set it up for. We’re a big lab but we can have some fun with it and do a range of drinks.”
Like any new brewery, there have been challenges during its development phase, particularly building during COVID.
“We were definitely affected [by the pandemic]. We put a stop on building the front-of-house early on and got the brewery commissioned, just because there was a lot of uncertainty.”
Getting investment was also key, as Douglas started out as the main investor.
“It was initially me to start with for the first year and a half, then once we were really getting into the Fremantle site in a big way, we got another three guys in – they get involved when we need them, but they’re really hands off and have their own businesses to run.
“They really believed in what we were doing, it was a huge risk for them, faced with this huge empty shell and no approvals, but they took the risk and we’re all still friends.”
As always, there were frustrations in planning, but with Fremantle already home to series of well-known breweries including Otherside and soon, Gage Roads, the council was receptive to their plans.
“Fremantle Council have been hugely supportive,” Douglas said. “They saw it as an asset for the area as part of the regeneration of South Fremantle, which they’ve been trying to get going for a while.”
Asked if he had any advice for burgeoning breweries, he initially said: “don’t do it!”
“It definitely has its challenges, but ultimately if you back yourself, have a plan and if you genuinely believe in it you’ll convince people to come along for the ride.”
This approach has served him well, and the team at Running with Thieves are feeling laid-back about the opening.
“To be honest now, after the last three years and everything we’ve been through, we’re feeling pretty relaxed.
“It’s chaos, don’t get me wrong, we’re brewing and distilling flat out and we’ve got construction happening all around us as well.
“But we’ve genuinely got really good people on board who have taken ownership of their areas, and working things out of the uncertainty and that’s made it a lot easier, it’s just getting it done now.”
All going well, Running with Thieves will open on 4th December.
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.