Updated Fri, Jan 20, 2012 1:09 pm
A local beer brewmaster has his sights set on the liquor industry.
Kelly Sauber started out working in the restaurant industry and quickly grew unhappy with it because he says he did not have passion for the business. He decided to go back to school to learn how to brew beer and began working for the Marietta Brewing Company in Marietta, Ohio in 1996.
“After I left [brewing school], I’ve smiled ever since. It’s fantastic,” Sauber said.
Although he loved his work, he quickly grew tired of driving back and forth from Marietta, and that is when he started his own distillery on his farm. The entire process takes place in a small building about the size of a two-car garage. The distillery has become his livelihood and is called Dancing Tree Distillery.
Owning and operating a distillery has always been Sauber’s goal. “After brewing beer for several years, we’re taking it to the next step,” he says.
Sauber does not have a license to brew beer, but he is licensed with federal and state governments to distill liquor. His business produces gin, vodka, whiskey and bourbon. These liquors are sold to local beer brewers like Jackie O’s in Athens and the Marietta Brewing Company. His partner and assistant is his girlfriend, and she helps him to make a living off of the farm.
Sauber grew up in Athens, building relationships with local bar and restaurant owners, which has been beneficial to his distillery because he wants to focus on selling his products to local buyers.
As of March 22, Sauber plans to start out selling corn-based vodka from his farm once it is legal for him to sell his liquor from the distillery. Right now, he sends what he makes to Columbus where the state controls the distribution.
Sauber says it’s not easy dealing with state regulations. “There are a lot of hoops to jump through and lots of paperwork,” he said.
His goal is to primarily produce whiskey and make his business large enough to distribute not only to local bars and restaurants, but also to local liquor stores within the next three to five years. His maximum output at this time is about 200 bottles a week, and it takes him about two to three weeks to complete one batch of vodka.
Sauber says batch distillation, or only producing one batch at a time, makes his business unique compared to larger liquor companies. “Batch distillation means a more hands-on process that results in a better taste than a commercial company,” he said.
“Here at Dancing Tree Distillery, we’re very concerned with the individual ingredients that go into the liquor,” Sauber said. In order to achieve a better taste, he buys all of his ingredients locally. “By using my neighbor’s corn or wheat for the distillery process, I feel like it creates an important sense of community with those who live around me,” he said.
The Dancing Tree Distillery plans to officially open in a few weeks.