Kelly Sauber founded Dancing Tree Distillery in 2011 with the intent to make exceptional local spirits. Kelly, an Athens, Ohio native, discovered his fermentation lust in 1991 as a home-brewer. With a bit of start-up help from his friend Terry Hawbaker, Kelly brewed for fun and love of beer. As his brewing library grew, along with his knowledge, it expanded into all areas of fermentation: cider, mead, wine, beer and even turned to the refinement of fermented beverages: all whiskey, tequila, rum, vodka. All this reading made Kelly very thirsty. He had to make lots of product to keep up. Might as well get paid.
In 1996 Kelly completed the Craft Brewers Preparation Program at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. Armed with this new background he ventured off into the world of professional brewing. Straight out of Chicago he started off by helping Jimmy Prouty turn his Athens, Ohio bar into O’Hooley’s Irish Pub and Brewery. Although not the head brewer, much experience was gained, especially brewing the first batch on Halloween Night in A-Town.
In June of 1997, Kelly was offered the opportunity to open a new brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Off he went to oversee the entire purchase and set-up of a 4 barrel all grain brewery with a six kettle brew-on-premise on Fields-Ertel Road called, Brew Masters, The Personnal Brewing Company. This brewery experience was crazy busy. Kelly brewed three to four batches a week on the main four barrel system and fifteen or so batches a week with customers of the brew your own set-up. He gained experience with over forty regularly used yeast strains, every hop available in 1997/’98, countless specialty grains and adjuncts, every spice, herb and flavor a hombrewer could conjure up to put in beer, and ultimately, a pretty good sensory capability. Kelly also gained radio skills he never expected by having his own call in radio talk show ”Beer Talk with the Brew Master” up on Froggy Mountain. After a year and a half, Kelly got tired. It was time to move back to southeast Ohio. As it so happened, his good friend the head brewer at Marietta Brewing Company (MBC) was of the same spirit to move along. About two months later Kelly took over the helm in Marietta, Ohio. It was now around the end of 1998.
Kelly was the only brewer at MBC from the end of 1998 until the end of 2010. In these twelve years, he became involved in quite a few festivals and won numerous awards all around the Midwest. He took the brewery from producing around 215 barrel/year to 550 barrel/year including around fifty different beers. Kelly became active in the Athens area beer scene and became known for his MBC IPA, Pawpaw Wheat and Raspberry Wheat. The Pawpaw Wheat started as a fun beer for the local Ohio Pawpaw Festival in 2001 and continued on to become a local Athens legend over the next nine years.
By now the year is 2010. Kelly wanted to focus on ingredients from local farmers. Beer requires lots of malted barley, which is not obtainable from local sources. What is a brewer to do? Take beer to the next step. Distill it. The local sugar sources seemed endless, limited only by ones imagination. “Why not Kale?” a friend asked Kelly. “The sugar gets way up, under the row cover in cold months.” Anyway, as a distiller, Dancing Tree Distillery is able to fulfill the wish to “know our growers.” And Kelly is glad not to drive the 42 miles both ways to the brewery in Marietta.
During all this beer activity, Kelly became friends with an international draft beer equipment supplier rep and started training in installation of draft beer dispensing systems. Kelly estimates that he has installed about half the draft systems in Athens as of 2012, specializing in long draw, high pressure, mixed gas systems.