NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Tucked away in a wooded corner of the SunRose Farm is a small red barn that has taken on a new life as the site of Wickford Alewerks, North Kingstown’s first farm brewery and the passion project of Kirk Higham and Stephen Pierce.
The duo have been brewing together for a decade but decided last year to expand their home brew hobby into a commercial operation.
“We always talked about (and) dreamed about opening a brewery, so we just finally decided to do it,” Higham said.
For them, the brewery also helps to further insure the future of their family farm, which has been in the Pierce family for over 200 years.
“We want to keep a farming tradition going in the family and on the land here,” Higham said. “(We’ve been trying to find) a viable avenue to continue the farm and it seemed like with how it’s going with the craft beer revolution (that this was) a good avenue.”
As a farm brewery, Wickford Alewerks grows all of their hops, a key ingredient in beer making used for flavoring and stabilizing, on site.
“It’s a good modern crop for small farms these days,” Higham said.
Wickford Alewerks also cultures its own yeast for the fermentation process at the brewery.
They are only the second farm brewery to open in the state, following Titled Barn Brewery in Exeter, which opened its doors in 2014 after previously operating as the state’s first commercial hops farm under the name Ocean State Hops since 2007. The family farm, which is operated by Matt and Kara Richardson, also is the site of The Christmas Farm, which Higham and Pierce have done business with for years and inspired them to try a similar route with their family farm.
To set up a farm brewery, Higham and Pierce had to go through both the process of working with the North Kingstown Town Council to pass an ordinance approving and defining farm breweries, farm wineries, farm distilleries and tasting rooms, which they heard and approved at their Aug. 19 meeting.
“The town people were very helpful in getting the whole thing to be passed, so they’ve done a really outstanding job and I just wanted to thank them for it,” Pierce said.
The ordinance issued by the town defines a farm brewery as “ facility located on a farm or as part of an agricultural operation of no less than five acres for the brewing of beer which is manufactured, in part, with at least one primary ingredient including, but not limited to, hops, grain and fruit grown on the premises, where customers have the opportunity to tour the farm and production facilities, sample beer and purchase and consume beer off-site in accordance with RI General Laws Section 3-6.”
Once the legal work was settled, work got underway on building the brewery itself. They chose to base the operation in a small barn which they refurbished and converted into a brewing area with two one-barrel fermentation tanks, four taps lines and a bar counter with a couple of stools for a small taproom.
Outside, they built a small porch with several seats and a chiminea, which they plan on utilizing more during the warmer months, as well as expanding their hours of operation beyond their current schedule of noon to 4 p.m on Saturdays.
“We’re talking as soon as the weather turns a little, probably mid-spring, we’re going to try to open up on Friday afternoon into the evening and maybe extend a little bit of hours on Saturday as well,” Higham said.
Other plans for the summer include introducing outdoor games such as cornhole and giant Jenga as well as potentially setting up an area for people to grill their own food. As fans of old time folk music, they also hope to introduce live performances into the summer experience as well.
The taproom opened its doors to the public on Dec. 21 and so far business has been pretty good according to Higham. They offer four to five beers on a rotating tap list, which mainly consists of the popular hoppy India Pale Ale (IPA) style as well as darker porters and Scottish ales. The names of their beers take inspiration from the farm and their passion for music, with titles such as the Hayrake IPA, Plowhorse Porter and the newly introduced Jam Session IPA, which Higham described as a crisper version of the Hayrake.
As for the brewery itself, Higham and Pierce considered going with a name directly related to farming, with Hayrake initially being an option, but figured a name like Wickford had more appeal and hometown pride.
“I grew up in downtown Wickford, so it’s all part of it,” Higham said. “I’m a product of Wickford.”
They also had visited Williamsburg, Virgina and came across a brewery called Alewerks Brewing Company, a name and spelling which stuck with Pierce and inspired the second half of their name.
While both brewing and farming can be long, hard work, Higham and Pierce both love what they do and their motto of “Farm to Beer” fits right in with the mentality the Pierces have had for centuries.
“We just have fun doing it, that’s basically all there is to it,” Higham said. “We like the whole local kind of small, handmade farm idea, that’s just what we’re into.
Additionally, Pierce says the door is now open for other farm brewers and breweries in town and welcomes fellow home brew enthusiasts to take a crack at taking their craft full time, though he advises them to make sure they do their homework first.
“I will caution them that the investment is going to be quite a bit,” Pierce said. “The equipment cost and the knowledge of brewing beer, it makes a difference. You can’t just say ‘Ok I’m going to brew beer now,’ without knowing exactly what you’re doing.”
Wickford Alewerks is located on SunRose Farm at 495 Gilbert Stuart Road in Saunderstown and is open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday. Beers are sold and drank on site in the taproom but they also sell refillable one liter bottles to take home for $10 for a first time purchase and $8 for each refill.
For more information on Wickford Alewerks, visit their website www.wickfordalewerks.com or find them on Instagram as @wickfordalewerks.