Matt and Kara Richardson first started making beer around 10 years ago, just for themselves. Then, in 2007, Matt starting growing hops with Kara's brother Joel Littlefield on Littlefield-owned farmland in Exeter. The hops were popular and Ocean State Hops was born. Now the Matt and Kara are planning to go a step further in the beer biz by opening Tilted Barn Brewery.
Their farm, off Route 2, is mainly in Exeter, but the entrance is in North Kingstown. You drive down a half-mile lane that’s wooded and far removed from the big box stores to the east and even the farmland to the south. Eventually, you leave the woods and drive up to the Richardson’s place.
They hope many people will take that same drive once their brewery is up and running. The plan is to have a tasting room and people can come, see how the beer is made ,, , try it and buy some.
“We have the equipment, we have the barn … we have the space, which is huge,” said Matt recently. What they need is a little capital to whip the barn into brewery shape. They started a fundraising effort on Indiegogo, a crowd-funding website. And, yes, they would love it if you decided to contribute.
“Contributing to TBB will help support ... the local economy [and] will help us maintain the farm and preserve open space,” Matt said. “We're in a chain of farms along Rt. 2 that is getting more and more development pressure as Home Depot, Stop and Shop, and Wal-Mart's presence expands.”
He added, “Contributors are helping us to create a unique space to come and visit the farm, enjoy some craft beer, and hang out in the barn tasting room while meeting other like-minded folks in the community.”
Matt and Kara have gotten into the brew biz a little differently than most, but Matt said he thinks they are in a unique position to make their brewery work.
“Growing the hops has really gotten us in the door,” Matt said, referring to the beer-brewing industry. “With us, having been in the business for three or four years now, really getting our name out there … it’s an easier transition” to becoming a retail brewery operation.
There has been just one glitch.
To open a brewery, you need state and federal licenses. It’s time consuming, Matt said, but the federal licensing is coming along. The state, that’s a different story. It turns out in Rhode Island, only wineries are able to grow their own grapes, make wine and sell it retail at their farm (vineyard). Not beer makers. Yet.
Richardson got a bill introduced during the last General Assembly session to expand the law to farm breweries (Tilted Barn would be the first in the state). A funny thing happened when the bill was heard in committee, however.
“There’s a hearing and I was the only one who showed up to support it,” said Matt. But there were plenty of other people there, non-legislators. “Who are all these guys in suits?” Matt recalled wondering. They were liquor lobbyists.
“The people were barely listening to me,” he said about the committee members. The bill failed.
“We got educated pretty quick on the liquor lobby,” he said. The bill will be back next year and Matt’s already been in touch with the farming community in the state.
“The farming community is very big, very vocal,” Matt said. Several other nearby states have passed similar laws, including Massachusetts.
Tilted Barn will be able to sell some beer at the brewery even without a new law – up to 64 ounces, per person. So, for the first year anyway, that’s what the Richardsons will do.
Both Matt and Kara have full-time jobs. Matt works for the USDA and Kara is a middle-school teacher in Westerly. They have two children.
Two jobs, two farms, two kids, and, soon, two businesses.If you want to learn more about the project, here’s their contribution page on Indiegogo. There are a variety of perks for contributing, from t-shirts and beer (of course!) to being a brewer for a day. You can visit the Ocean State Hops blog here.