Some people know from a very young age what they want to be in life, and exploration quickly turns to repetition. Others follow a passion for discovery and find their calling in whatever holds the most room for wonderment and growth.
For Dave Richardson, the journey might’ve well begun with his coursework at the University of Vermont, where he graduated with a major in environmental sciences and a double minor in plant and soil sciences.
Or, it might’ve begun with his first sip of craft beer.
Now, almost 20 years later, Richardson is the proud owner and braumeister of Worcester’s Flying Dreams Brewing Co. at 455 Park Ave. The brewery, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary in November, was founded on the principles of using quality, unique ingredients, and spending extra brewing time to allow for a superior beer that holds its flavor longer.
And just like his philosophies related to brewing, Richardson’s own journey holds a combination of uniqueness and the time to flourish.
As Richardson began his undergraduate studies, the craft-brewing world was much smaller than what we now enjoy. “It used to be just Harpoon and Sam Adams,” he said. “Those were really the only big microbreweries in New England.” But during his time at UVM, where Burlington became Beer Town USA, the craft-brewery revolution was gaining ground.
“It was the early days of places that are now big names like Magic Hat, Long Trail and Catamount,” Richardson said. “They seem common now, but they were pioneers in that period.”
So, as Richardson started sampling these beers, he became curious about the process and their scientific properties. Perhaps most surprising are the nutritional benefits of drinking beer, from promoting gastrointestinal health to providing vitamins and minerals. “Barley is very nutritious,” Richardson said. “In a good, unfiltered beer, you get niacin, riboflavin, and zinc, as well as other amino acids.”
[Editor’s note: Don’t forget the alcohol, and the carbohydrates — oh, the carbs!]
Before jumping straight into making his own beer, though, Richardson tried his hand at working in the sciences as an environmental research technician. “It was cool, but boring,” he said. “It wasn’t for me. If ever went back to that type of work, it would be something more field-related.”
That makes sense when you find out Richardson has backpacked all over the world on a budget, visiting Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Mexico and some Caribbean islands. “It’s as romantic as it is [only] if you don’t care about being dirty,” he said.
But his passions for science and beer never subsided. In 2000, Richardson found himself brewing in the basement of a friend, Rick Walton. “Rick had been brewing for four years already, so my first time was easy,” he said.
Walton himself noted that Richardson had a natural aptitude for the craft, and that his friend took to it quickly. “We brewed one winter in my basement and then he was hooked,” said Walton.
“It was a natural transition. I picked it up quickly,” Richardson said, adding his background in sciences played a huge role in the early success. “The first time was awesome. The second time was even better. By the fifth time, I wanted to start a brewery.”
So, with the encouragement of Walton, Richardson attended University of California-Davis to pursue a master’s of brewing science and engineering degree. His prior education in the sciences could not have been more serendipitous. “Back when I went to UC Davis, they required an undergrad in engineering or sciences,” he noted.
While in school, he also worked at Red Hook Brewery to put his studies into practice. “Red Hook was huge and I learned a lot there; it was perfect,” he said. “I learned a lot of great techniques, and it was a great standard operating procedure for the brewing industry.”
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But Richardson realized his true passion was small-batch brewing by hand, to create and perfect his own recipes. So he and Walton went into business together and started the Gardner Ale House Brewery & Restaurant.
“In 2006, I was getting ready to open my brewpub, and I offered him the head brewer job,” Walton said. “He brewed great beers and won many medals at the Great International Beer Festival in Providence.”
Richardson’s Gardner Ale House medals include a gold for a Vienna lager in 2012. Eight of his beers won medals in 2014, according to the Providence Journal.
While honing his craft at Gardner Ale House for nine years, Richardson enjoyed the opportunity to experiment and create a unique range of beers. But his focus turned to distribution. The brewery’s diverse selection was only served on-site, and Richardson dreamed of bottling and kegging to serve a wider customer base.
“It’s been an interesting journey, and this was the next step,” he said. “I wanted to get my beer out there.”
Richardson began the search for a place to establish his brewery. Sixth months later, Ben Roesch of Wormtown Brewery contacted Richardson to inform him that Wormtown would be moving from its location at Peppercorn’s Grille & Tavern on Park Avenue to its current location at 72 Shrewsbury St.
Roesch, who had met Richardson while looking for work and attending school, had previously collaborated with Richardson to develop their own Black IPA. “We sat down and talked about flavor profiles and ingredients and brewed a batch, kegged it up and sold it at numerous places,” Roesch said.
And so, as hermit crabs change their shells, a convenient arrangement was made that would benefit the growth of both Wormtown and Flying Dreams. “We were uncertain (about) what we were going to do with the equipment from starting the old location,” Roesch said, although he knew leasing the space to Richardson would be a nice fit.
“He’s a good brewer,” Roesch said. “We’re like-minded in that respect, that quality is the most important part of running a brewery.”
Since opening Flying Dreams’ doors in November of 2015, Richardson has enjoyed his dream of brewing and distributing product all over the Worcester area. He also made note of the camaraderie he’s experienced with other brewers along the way.
“In the brewing community, people are incredibly supportive of each other’s’ pursuit of the craft,” he said.
Perhaps what sets Richardson’s beer apart the most is his devotion to unique, quality ingredients influenced by his travels around the world, and using more of them in the brewing process. This, he said, allows the beer to develop a complex flavor and hold it longer.
“You have to use a bit more to get the flavor that lasts,” he said. “My beer will last months without going bad. I’ve never had people call and complain that their beer’s gone off.”
As for the brewery’s unique name, it reflects the artistic multiplicity found in Richardson’s beer and his personal story (complete with a dragon logo influenced by medieval art and Japanese folklore).
First, the name encapsulates the joy felt when someone has a dream of flying. The second meaning comes from a hobby of Richardson’s, disc golf, when a player makes a “dream shot” that flies perfectly into the basket. The last and perhaps most significant meaning comes from Richardson watching his dream take flight and his brewery continue to flourish.
Flying Dreams’ beer is available in more than 40 restaurants and stores across Massachusetts. In Worcester you can find it at Peppercorn’s, The Boynton, Volturno and Muse; and Austin Liquors, Highland Liquors and Living Earth. The brewery is open for tastings from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 3 to 10 p.m. Fridays and noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays.
Flying Dreams will also have a booth at the Westford Rotary Club’s 15th annual Blues N’ Brews Festival at Nashoba Valley Ski Area on Aug. 20 and 21.
In the meantime, Richardson invites everyone to try beer that he said “is made with a combo of science and love. … When you make it with both, that’s when beer is the best.”