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Hops farm transforms into R.I.’s first farm brewery

Seeking to build a reputation, Tilted Barn Brewery to release first batch of hand-crafted beer this month

Maple, pumpkins and Christmas trees are all products that Matt and Kara Richardson, the husband-and-wife team that co-founded Rhode Island’s first farm brewery, use as ingredients in their new handcrafted beers.

Located in Exeter, the Tilted Barn Brewery is part of a class of breweries distinguished by their ties to operational farms and local ingredients.

“The hand-crafted beer will be brewed with ingredients grown right here on the farm,” Matt Richardson wrote on Tilted Barn Brewery’s fundraising page on the digital crowd-funding site Indiegogo. The first batch of beer for sale will come out in October, he announced on the brewery’s Facebook page.

Matt Richardson originally co-founded a hops farm called Ocean State Hops alongside Joel Littlefield in 2007, according to the fundraising page. Ocean State Hops supplied hops for craft breweries, such as Craft Brews Supplies and Newport Storm, but has since stopped selling hops to the public, according to its website. The hops, as well as some of the 400 other plants grown at the Tilted Barn Brewery’s farm, are now being used to make Littlefield and Richardson’s beer.

Richardson and his wife decided to start the brewery to increase their revenue and preserve open space by consolidating farm and brewery operations, Richardson wrote on their fundraising page. They also sought to “keep the farming tradition alive,” he wrote.

Fundraising for the brewery began in September 2013, and the Richardsons raised $6,365 from 94 donors on Indiegogo when their online funding campaign concluded in November last year.

Tilted Farm Brewery is tapping into the growing craft beer market, which represents approximately 8 percent of the total American beer market. There has been a roughly 17 percent increase in craft beer sales in 2013, according to the Brewers Association website.

Ken Ayars, chief of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture, said that while interest in local farms is growing on a national level, Rhode Island in particular has a “changing face of agriculture,” as local foods and farm markets are seeing increasing popularity. The state’s number of farms has been growing at a “rapid rate,” with a 40 percent increase from 2002 to 2012, he said.

Rhode Islanders are interested in not only consuming locally grown foods, but also visiting and interacting with the places where these foods are grown, Ayars said. “Agritourism is a significant part of income for many farms,” he said. Town residents are usually supportive of this type of enterprise, since it brings more visitors to the rest of the town as well, he added.

Tilted Barn Brewery will have an important agritourism aspect, as visitors can get a tour of the farm while trying free samples of the beer, Matt Richardson told Rhode Island Monthly last month.

Visitors will “be able to walk through the fields to see, touch and smell the ingredients that will go into their beer, and relax in a century-old barn while enjoying the fruits of our labor,” Richardson wrote on the fundraising page.

Tilted Barn Brewery should see an increase in visitors compared to Ocean State Hops, as “people would rather see how craft beer is made than see how hops grow,” Ayars said.

In the most recent legislative session, a farm brewery bill that would allow brewers to sell more than 72 ounces of beer — a six-pack — was held back.

Rep. Jared Nunes, D-Coventry, the sponsor of the brewery legislation, said all beer currently goes from a distributor to a liquor store or restaurant before being purchased by a consumer. It is difficult for smaller businesses, like the Tilted Barn Brewery, to get a distributor and shelf space, Nunes said.

By lifting the restriction for the quantity sold at a farm, the farm brewery bill would give small businesses more options and higher likelihoods for success, Nunes said. “It is common sense to help the start-up breweries that cannot get a large enough audience with distributors,” he added.

Ayars compared transitioning from hops sales to handcrafted beer to transitioning from selling apples to apple pies, as farm breweries consolidate various parts of the production process into a streamlined model. Farmers need this diversity in production and sales, he added.

In 2013, New York and Massachusetts implemented farm brewery laws, Ayars said, adding that though they have been successful, this type of legislation often receives some pushback.

Rhode Island’s bill has strong opposition from the liquor lobby, since vendors see the bill as hurting industry profits, said Sen. Dawson Hodgson, R-East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Narragansett, in an interview with Rhode Island Public Radio. The approximately 300 liquor stores in Rhode Island that sell handcrafted beer would suffer from a decrease in sales if this bill were passed, Tom Saccoccia, the owner of a small liquor store, told RIPR.

But Nunes said he anticipates moving the farm brewery bill forward in the upcoming legislative session, especially given that Rhode Island has seen a trend of pro-small-business measures enacted.

In the meantime, Tilted Barn Brewery can only sell its handcrafted beer with a traditional brewery manufacturer’s license, which has restrictions on where and how much beer can be sold.


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