EXETER—Set back from Route 2, down a narrow and winding dirt road, rests the family farm of Matt and Kara Richardson. Since 2007, Matt and his partner, Joel Littlefield, have operated Ocean State Hops, growing and selling beer hops to local breweries and home brewers. Now, Matt and Kara are embarking on a new venture from their 30-acre farm; becoming the first ever farm brewery in Rhode Island.
The Exeter farm has been owned by Kara’s family for the past 50 years, a destination during the holidays for those looking to purchase Christmas trees. Now, the couple hope to launch ‘Tilted Barn Brewery,’ a first in Rhode Island.
“It will be neat for people to come and see what goes into making the beer,” said Matt. “It is all about getting people here, not just a trip to get beer, but to see it grown and made.”
“You’ll see that with this brewery, it will sort of be an experience,” he added.
The brewing equipment has been purchased and the ‘tilted barn’ on their property will be the stage for producing beer. Matt and Kara have begun a capital campaign as well because the barn itself has to be converted into an actual brewery. Donations will be used to construct necessary items, such as heating and plumbing systems, as well as renovate the structure into a space which can entertain visitors to the farm who wish to enjoy a beer and tour the facility.
“The motivation behind Tilted Barn Brewery is to keep Kara’s family tradition of farming alive while adding [our] own modern twist for craft beer and the art of brewing,” said Matt.
Matt and Kara are part of a growing group of local, young farmers who have inherited the land of their parents and grandparents, but are seeking to diversify their production in order to cope with high taxes and the shifting demands of the local economy. Brewing and selling beer on their farm is one other way the couple can make a profit while offering a local product for residents who want to keep their money within the community.
Matt plans to begin brewing with next year’s hop harvest in September or October of 2014, if all the federal, state and local requirements are met, a process which is long and not easily navigable.
“Ideally, we’d have it all set up over the winter,” he said. “We can’t sell anything until we finish the licensing process.”
In Rhode Island currently, only wineries can sell bottles at the place of production. Matt and Joel have been working with local and state legislators to allow farm brewers to make and sell their product in limited quantities.
“Right now, we would open as a regular brewery and can sell up to 72 ounces of beer,” said Matt. “We are in support of [farm brewing legislation]. There have been a lot of changes to it, [but] now people know more about it.”
Earlier this year, legislation which would allow farm brewers to exist was turned down after liquor store retailers argued that the selling of liquor at a farm unfairly bypasses the state’s three tiered system for liquor businesses, (i.e: from producer to distributor to liquor store). At that time, Matt pushed to see the legislation go through.
“The amount of sales that would come from a farm brewery is so miniscule, so it is not like [liquor stores] are going to lose a lot of business,” said Matt in February. “With a lot of the larger companies, even if they could sell, I find it hard to believe they would want to go to a farmers market on a Saturday to sell four or five bottles of wine. It doesn’t seem like much of an argument.”
“The way I see it, if a farmer is going to grow their own crops and make their own beer, they should be able to sell it on their own farm-stand without having to compete with local liquor stores,” he added.
Regardless of how the ‘farm brewery’ legislation turns out, Matt and Kara are hopeful that their business can get off its feet and ultimately become a resource for the public who want to enjoy a good, locally made beer.
“We are as prepared as we can be,” said Matt. “There is always something that can pop up, but this has been a long time coming.”
“We always have doubts, but it is cool how many emails and calls we have gotten from people asking to help,” he added.
For more information about Tilted Barn Brewery’s progress, or to donate to Matt and Kara’s campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/tilted-barn-brewery .