Beer

Tilted Barn Brewery is straight-up thriving in Exeter, R.I.

After an expansion, the Richardson family ― and the beer list ― have achieved a balance.

Kara and Matt Richardson on their farm. Courtesy Tilted Barn Brewery

One of the biggest decisions visitors to Tilted Barn Brewery are faced with is whether to stake out an Adirondack chair in the sun or a table inside the post-and-beam barn, lapping up the cool breeze in front of big, screened-in windows.

The setting is the point at this bucolic brewery in Exeter, R.I., built on a family farm by Kara Richardson and her husband, Matt. There are sheep on site, along with donkeys and “a whole bunch of chickens.” Growing in the soil are hops, various fruit trees, and flowers, soon to be fresh-cut and for sale.

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The couple met, poetically, on a farm, working through high school and college at nearby Schartner Farms. The Richardsons now have four children, and until 2016 also had full-time jobs that weren’t running the brewery they started on site two years earlier. At one point, they even ran a commercial hop farm.

“It was a lot of work for not really a lot of return,” says Matt. “We did it for like three years, and all told we maybe lost a couple thousand dollars.”

Pale ales from Tilted Barn.

Brewing their own beer, however, was more successful. At first, Matt brewed 60 gallons of beer at a time, in a small, off-center barn that gave the brewery its name.

“We never wrote a formal business plan,” he says. “We never really had an end goal. It was, ‘I think it would be fun to start a little brewery in the barn.’”

They did modest business until they started canning in 2016. Suddenly, customers were trading and reviewing brews like Cactus, a pillowy soft IPA with notes of pineapple, mango, and guava, and lining up for more.

The new barn, which houses the brewery.

“It was scary,” says Matt Richardson of all the attention. “Our road is a half mile leading to the farm. For a long stretch of time, an hour before open, that whole road was lined with cars. People say that must have been great, but that was our ‘oh s***’ moment, like, we’ve got to do something.”

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Still, the Richardsons wanted to make a living brewing beer, and an expansion would actually help them gain more privacy; their house was some 75 feet from the center of their brewing operations in the little barn. The couple carved out 7 acres of the 30-acre property on which to build a new, bigger barn and brewery, funneling traffic away from their home. They opened the new space last November, gaining a tap room, increased brewing capacity, and an even wider audience.

Now, the extra traffic is welcome. Matt recalls a carful of visitors showing up on a Friday night with a gift of beer they’d just purchased in Pennsylvania.

“I said, ‘What are you doing in Rhode Island? And they said, ‘We came to visit your brewery.’ I’ll never forget that.”

While the Richardsons wax nostalgic about tending bar during those early brewery weekends and getting to know every last local customer, Tilted Barn still feels very much like a local hangout. On a recent Friday afternoon, friends and young families chatted over pints; one table over from where I was sitting, the group made a game of naming how many Rhode Island towns each of them had lived in.

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The beer list leans hoppy, but is shifting away from higher alcohol brews to single IPAs and pale ales like Spruced, a wheat beer brewed with fresh spruce tips harvested from the farm’s Christmas trees. A lager called Lawn Boy is now the brewery’s bestseller. A farmhouse ale called Pasture had just kicked, to my dismay. The beers, like the Richardsons’ life, have achieved a kind of balance.

“When you’re home, you’re home,” says Matt of the new brewery setup. “But you’re also never too far from work if you need to come up here for some reason.”

Tilted Barn Brewery, One Hemsley Place, Exeter, R.I., 401-500-6765.

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