“When you buy craft beer, you’re buying a little slice of American individuality, made by men and women who have escaped the confines of the establishment to make something special for themselves and their countrymen.”
–MSNBC, Red White and Brew
West Sixth Brewing opened their doors one year ago, serendipitously coinciding with UK’s NCAA successful championship bid. They made it all look so easy and effortless, co-founder and owner Ben Self says no one would’ve guessed what Opening Day looked like behind the scenes. “It really was ‘restaurant impossible’ style – two hours before opening, none of the furniture was in the taproom, and we were cleaning frantically. We quickly trained our wives / girlfriends on the computer system, and rolled some beer up to tap. Somehow everything pulled together and we were able to open on time — and you never would have guessed what it looked like two hours before.”
West Sixth produced over 3000 barrels of beer during its first year in business. Initially, they served four beers out of their tap room on the corner of 6th and Jefferson. In May 2012, they began distributing their beer throughout Central Kentucky. In June 2012, they began distributing their beer to Louisville area and doubled their capacity. In January 2013, West Sixth began distributing their second beer, the West Sixth Amber, and also began distributing to Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Now they have nine beers on tap in that same tap room. Self says, “We knew Kentucky was really interested in more local, tasty craft beer, but we never knew just how interested they were!” Co-founder Brady Barlow adds, “We never expected that we’d produce half as much beer as we did in our first year.”
It isn’t just about the beer. West Sixth’s mission is to also give back to the community. On their “Sixth for a Cause” evenings, they donate six percent of all sales to the charity of the month. (April’s is God’s Pantry.) Self says, “We’re really proud of all the events we’ve done — particularly our 6th for a Cause events. We’ve raised thousands of dollars for local charities, and given a lot of different organizations exposure to new people.” Who do they look up to for models of conscientious business? Self says, “I really love the stuff that Yvon Chouinard does at Patagonia. And, of course, in the brewing world, New Belgium is a great role model.” (New Belgium lists among its company core values and beliefs “Kindling social, environmental and cultural change as a business role model.” Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is famously quoted as saying, “Living the examined life is a pain in the ass,” acknowledging, “It adds an element of complexity to business that most businessmen don’t want to hear about.”)
West Sixth is the only brewery in Kentucky to can its beers. “Everyone loves the cans.” said founder Joe Kuosman. “That’s been a real differentiator for us.” Why cans? They block light and remove air; they’re environmentally friendly and easily recyclable; they’re portable, especially in places where glass isn’t safe or allowed. The popular logo on the cans was designed by Lexington’s Cricket Press, now a neighbor within The Bread Box, a mixed-use project that also houses Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, Food Chain, and other locally-minded businesses and projects.
Asked to predict the next trend (after Craft Brew) that will explode in the Bluegrass, taking Lexington by storm, five years from now, Self says, “I don’t like to think of Craft Beer as a trend — it’s one of those things that once you drink a locally produced craft beer, you don’t go back.”
It does seem to be here to stay. Country Boy Brewing celebrated its first birthday in February. Blue Stallion Brewing looks to join Lexington’s now thriving craft brew scene in Spring 2013, at 610 West Third. Chase Taproom is developing a taproom and attached brewery just down the street on Jefferson.
West Sixth will celebrate their first birthday on Friday night, April 5, 2013 at the taproom at 501 West Sixth Street in Lexington. They will release a new beer, the Saison Bellaire, and will have five different firkins of beer available only on Friday. They’ll have cupcakes for everyone, and a special limited-release pint glass that will be available for free for anyone who stops by, while supplies last. On Saturday, the celebration will continue with West Sixth’s Sixth for a Cause for April. On Saturday, 6% of all sales will be donated to the charity of the month, which is God’s Pantry Food Bank in April.
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