Many people enjoy a cold beer at the end of a long work day, while tailgating with friends before a concert or sporting event, or while relaxing in the warm summer sun, but for Warwick native Matt Richardson, who grew up in Apponaug, beer is more than just a refreshing beverage; it’s a passion.
Ten years ago, Matt and his wife Kara, who live on a farm in Exeter, started home brewing. It was only for their own enjoyment at first, but that all changed in 2007. That year, there was a worldwide hops shortage, so Matt and his brother-in-law, Joel Littlefield, started planting hops on the farm.
“We kept planting more and more, and then it took off,” Matt said. “Local brewers became interested and we started selling hops [commercially] in 2011.”
That was the beginning of Ocean State Hops, the company Matt and Joel formed to provide hops to home brewers and local breweries, such as Newport Storm and the recently formed Bucket Brewery in Pawtucket. Since the hops are grown on the farm, it became Rhode Island’s first commercial hop farm.
Not satisfied with merely providing locally grown hops to brewers, Matt and Kara wanted to take things to the next level and craft their own beer using local ingredients from the farm.
“We talked about brewing our own for a while,” Matt said, as he told how he and Kara lived in Vermont, which features a number of local breweries, for several years before moving back to Rhode Island. “By chance, Bucket Brewery in Pawtucket, which opened last year, needed to upgrade their system, so we were able to buy their old system at a really good price.”
Matt and Kara plan to transform the century-old barn on their farm, which has been in Kara’s family for 50 years, into a brewery using the equipment they purchased from Bucket Brewery, thereby creating Rhode Island’s first and only farm brewery, which they have officially named Tilted Barn Brewery.
“Being the first and only farm brewery is unique and it will spark a lot of interest,” Matt said. “The beer scene around here has been lacking for a while, so we see this a good opportunity.”
Matt said the scene wasn’t always lacking in New England; in fact, it used to be quite the opposite.
“At the turn of the century, New England was known as a hop-growing region of the United States, especially northern New England, but it started to move west, as most things did,” Matt said. “There’s been a movement recently to get it back in the east. We’re at the beginning of it taking off in Rhode Island.”
Although the most ideal conditions for growing hops are out west, Matt said the east still provides a good climate for hop growing. And while farm breweries aren’t common, he said a few have started popping up around the region, such as a recent one in Pennsylvania.
“We want to make it special,” Matt said of Rhode Island’s first farm brewery. “We want to get the community involved, have people come, visit and hang out, see the farm, see the brewery.”
Matt said he and Kara envision providing tours of the farm and the brewery to let people see what ingredients are going into their beer and perhaps what some of the new flavors will feature.
“We plan to offer a number of different types,” Matt said. “We’ll probably have three year-round staple beers, but we hope to do a lot of seasonal beers.”
Matt said the farm operates a Christmas tree farm, so they could use spruce trees to create a Spruce Pale Ale. Other seasonal beers could include a Pumpkin beer in the fall and a Maple beer in the spring, since the farm also has maple trees. He said they may even experiment with some vegetables, such as a carrot beer.
“We would like to source as much locally [as possible], even beyond the farm, like wheat and barley,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”
Although Matt and Kara are ready to hit the ground running and have many plans once the brewery is operational, they first need to convert the barn into a brewery.
“Since the barn has been in our family, it’s had horses and cows, been used for hay storage, has functioned as a woodworking and metal shop, and has served as a wreath and Christmas tree gift shop,” Matt said. “It’s been a bit of everything. We have everything we need for the brew system to get going, but the barn needs heating, plumbing, drains and infrastructure updates.”
The system purchased from Bucket Brewery features a one-and-a-half-barrel brew house with six two-barrel fermenters. Matt explained that breweries are measured by the barrel.
“One barrel equals 31 gallons, or about two full-size kegs,” he said. “With the one-and-a-half-barrel brew house, we’ll be able to boil 55 gallons at a time.”
Matt said large breweries, known as macro breweries, use thousands of barrels, while smaller breweries, known as microbreweries, may use 10 to 15 barrels. He said Tilted Barn Brewery would be considered a nano brewery, adding that Newport Storm and Bucket Brewery are examples of microbreweries.
In order to perform the necessary updates to the barn to convert it into a brewery, the Richardsons have started an indiegogo fundraising campaign, where the donator receives special perks and offers for donations made. There are a number of different donation levels – the higher the donation, the better the perk. For example, a $25 donation will get you a limited edition Tilted Barn Brewery (TBB) bumper sticker and a shout out on the Tilted Barn Brewery Facebook page, while a $100 donation will get you a growler of beer, a personal thank you from Matt and Kara when you arrive to pick it up and a shout out on the Facebook page. Other perks include a TBB koozie, pint glass, or custom T-shirt. There are also some bigger ticket items, such as at $500 (or $1,000 for a group of four), you get to become brewer for a day as well as receive some “TBB swag,” and at $5,000, you get every perk at the previous levels as well as the opportunity to name your own beer.
Matt said the funding campaign started about a month ago and will be a 60-day campaign. It closes Nov. 23.
“It’s going slow and steady so far, but in talking with people that have done these before, they say it starts to pick up at the end,” he said. “We’re looking to raise $25,000. With that, we would be able to do the whole barn. If we fall short, we’ll still do the work, perhaps just a portion of the barn, between what we raise and what we have.”
According to the indiegogo webpage, the money raised will be used to convert the first floor of the barn into the brewery space and the second floor into a tasting room and viewing area of the brewery. Funds will also go toward constructing a bar, purchasing the necessary draft lines and refrigeration, and building a temperature-controlled fermentation and cold storage room.
When asked what he enjoys most about home brewing, Matt said the excitement of people about growing hops.
Kara agreed, adding, “The best part has been the people and the amount of interest.”
However, the farm hasn’t been without its challenges.
“One of the hardest things these days is keeping farms going,” Matt said. “Anything we can do to diversify and bring in more income helps us out, but it also helps out the local economy and preserves open space.”
The Richardsons said another challenge they face concerns one of the local laws, which currently limits the amount of beer manufacturers can sell on site, unlike a farm winery law, which allows grape growers to operate their own winery and sell their product as their own retailer without having to go through a local distributor.
“We’ve talked to local legislators about getting the farm brewery added to that, so we can do the same,” Matt said, adding that without that provision, the Richardsons wouldn’t be able to sell more than 72 ounces per person on the farm.
“Hopefully we can operate as a brewery and get the same benefits as wine farms,” he said. “If not, we would do limited retail here and sell kegs to local restaurants. We could sell growlers here.”
Matt said the licensing process takes six to 12 months, so the Richardsons hope to be up and running, brewing their own beer next year and selling by the summer and during the fall harvest.
For more information or to make a donation, visit the Tilted Barn Brewery indiegogo webpage at www.indiegogo.com/projects/tilted-barn-brewery.