Co-Founder & Head of West End Distillery

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Dancing Tree Distillery was founded by Kelly Sauber in 2011 with the intent to make exceptional local spirits. Kelly was, as he says “born and bred” in Athens, Ohio. Dancing Tree became West End Distillery in 2018 and is now located just a few hundred feet away from the West End Ciderhouse.

Kelly discovered his fermentation lust in 1991 as a homebrewer. 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 Whisk(e)y, 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 6 kettle Brew-On-Premise on Fields-Ertel Road called “BrewMasters, The Personal Brewing Company”. This brewery experience was crazy busy. Kelly brewed 3 to 4 batches a week on the main 4 barrel system and 15 or so batches a week with customers of the brew your own set-up. He gained experience with over 40 regularly used yeast strains, every hop available in 97/98, countless specialty grains and adjuncts, every spice, herb and flavor a homebrewer 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 SE Ohio. As it so happened, his good friend the head brewer at Marietta Brewing Company 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 12 years, Kelly became involved in quite a few festivals and won numerous awards from all around the Midwest. We’ll post photos, it is a long list. He took the brewery from producing around 215 barrel/year to 550 barrel/year including around 50 different beers. Kelly became active in the Athens area beer scene and became known for his MBC IPA, Pawpaw Wheat, and Rasp Wheat. The Pawpaw Wheat starting 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.

So the year is 2010. Kelly wants 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 seem endless, limited only by one’s 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 Distilling (now West End Distillery) is able to fulfill the wish to “Know our growers”. And Kelly is glad not to drive the 42 miles both ways to his brewery in Marietta.

During all this beer activity Kelly became friends with an international draft beer equipment supplier rep and started training in the installation of draft beer dispensing systems. Kelly now has installed about half the draft systems in Athens, specializing in long-draw, high pressure, mixed gas systems.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the website of Dancing Tree Distillery, which became Fifth Element Spirits, and has now become West End Ciderworks & Distillery.

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