West Sixth Brewery models “pay it forward” business philosophy

February 1, 2015

When four partners bought the Bread Box building and started West Sixth Brewery nearly four years ago, they said they wanted to do more than make money and good beer. They wanted to make their community a better place to live.

The partners donate 6 percent of profits to charity, plus make other donations and host monthly fundraisers where a different non-profit group receives 6 percent of sales. Last year, the company’s giving totaled about $100,000, partner Ben Self said.

“We expect that to increase significantly” this year, Self said, thanks to a quarterly program built around sales of the newest of West Sixth’s four canned beers, Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter.

pifWest Sixth will present a “big check” Wednesday to GreenHouse17, formerly called the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program. It is the last of six non-profits getting checks as part of the program launched in September, when Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter began distribution statewide and in Cincinnati.

West Sixth wants to keep GreenHouse17’s award amount a surprise until Wednesday, but partner Brady Barlow said it would be larger than the others. “Lexington is a very thirsty town,” he said.

Other regional awards ranged from $800 to more than $5,000 each in Louisville and Cincinnati. The amounts were based on sales in each region.

The other recipients were Appalshop, the arts and media non-profit in Whitesburg; New Roots of Louisville, which provides fresh produce to needy neighborhoods; Community Action of Southern Kentucky; the Owensboro Humane Society; and Community Matters, which works in Cincinnati’s Lower Price Hill neighborhood.

Here’s how the program works: West Sixth donates 50 cents from each Pay it Forward six-pack, which retails for $9.99, to a non-profit organization “making a difference” in a community where the beer is sold. In all but the Louisville region, West Sixth’s distributors match the donation, for a total of $1 a six-pack.

Each can of Pay it Forward has a website link (Westsixth.com/pif) where customers can nominate a non-profit. Regional winners are selected each quarter by a democratic vote of West Sixth’s 32 employees, so the number of nominations made for each organization doesn’t matter.

Nominations for the first quarter 2015 awards are due Monday, and the brewery staff will meet Tuesday to choose the winners.

There is nothing new about business philanthropy. Most companies do something, some in substantial amounts, depending on their size and profitability.

But West Sixth is an example of a new trend, especially popular among some young entrepreneurs, that has been called Conscious Capitalism. Community responsibility is integral to the business model.

Conscious Capitalism acknowledges that businesses have an impact on and a responsibility to their communities and the environment. It is about serving all stakeholders, not just shareholders. That means three bottom lines, rather than just one: profits, people, planet.

“For us, that means everything from being environmentally sustainable to using local ingredients whenever possible and supporting the organizations doing great work in the communities we’re a part of,” Self said.

The partners’ philosophy extends beyond their core beer business, which is housed in the Bread Box, an 90,000-square-foot 1890s building at the corner of West Sixth and Jefferson Streets that used to be a Rainbo Bread factory.

In addition to the brewery and taproom, the Bread Box houses shared office space for non-profit organizations; artist studios; Broke Spoke, a non-profit community bicycle shop; and FoodChain, an urban agriculture non-profit.

There also are several like-minded businesses there: Smithtown Seafood restaurant; Magic Beans coffee roasters; and Bluegrass Distillers. The building also houses a women’s roller derby league.

Self said the company’s business model isn’t just about altruism: it is also good for business.

“I think there’s no doubt” that community involvement has boosted sales, Self said. “I don’t think we’re bashful about that. And by making a situation that can be a win for the community organization as well as the business, it’s something that can be done longer term.”

West Sixth’s sales have risen from 2,000 barrels in 2012 to 7,000 in 2013 and 11,000 last year. The company plans to add canned seasonal beers this year.

“Kentucky has been really supportive of us from the beginning,” Self said.

West Sixth plans to continue reinvesting in that support.

“If you take care of your community,” Barlow said, “your community will take care of you.”

Suddenly, many new options for locally made beer

May 20, 2012

Robin Sither, brewmaster at West Sixth Street Brewery, cleans tanks. The brewery and taproom, which opened April 1, are located in part of a former Rainbo bread factory at the corner of West Sixth and Jefferson streets. Photos by Tom Eblen


Last week was American Craft Beer Week, so I thought it would be a good time for an update on three brewpubs that have opened in Lexington this year.

Better still, Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop was having a fund-raiser, a “bicycle progressive dinner” where a sold-out crowd of 70 people would pedal to all three brewpubs in one evening.

So — purely in the interest of journalistic research, of course — I signed up. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

The popularity of local and unique food and drink has exploded. Wineries, boutique distilleries and craft breweries have sprung up everywhere. Lexington’s new brewpubs will soon be joined by at least two more, one downtown on Short Street and a second in Chevy Chase. And don’t forget Alltech, which has been brewing Kentucky Ale downtown for a decade.

While Americans’ beer consumption has declined slightly during the past 30 years, the number of small, independent breweries has risen from a handful to about 2,000, according to the Brewers Association. Still, they account for less than 6 percent of total U.S. beer sales, indicating a lot of room for growth.

Craft breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs are gaining popularity for many reasons: they are popular local hangouts; they support local economies and engender regional pride; and, most of all, their brews taste better than industrial beer.

The first stop on our two-wheeled tour was Lexington Beerworks, which opened Jan. 13 in a renovated old building at 213 North Limestone. The company’s three partners — Mike Vincent, Greg Leimer and Jason Wolf — are Lexmark marketing guys. They wanted a side business to indulge their home-brewing hobby and introduce others to making and appreciating craft beer.

Lexington Beerworks

Lexington Beerworks serves craft beers from around the country, sells home-brewing supplies and offers twice-monthly home-brewing classes. Unlike the other two brewpubs, they don’t make significant amounts of beer on premises.

Vincent said the place is designed for craft beer geeks and novices. The most popular item is a flight of four samples of different beers for $6.

“We try to recommend beers that people will like, and if they do like them, hopefully they’ll come back,” he said. “So far, we’ve done better than we expected.”

After a couple of samples and appetizers from Fork in the Road Food Truck, our group pedaled over to Chair Avenue, off South Broadway, to a concrete-block building that used to house batting cages. It is now home to Country Boy Brewing.

This small brewery was started on a shoestring by three Kentucky country boys who wanted to take their home-brewing hobby to the next level. Jeff Beagle, Daniel Harrison and Evan Coppage make small batches of seriously good beer, which they serve in a bar on site.

They have made 17 different recipes, 11 of which are on tap now. “We’re not afraid to experiment,” Harrison said. “People have been appreciative of the riskiness of what we’re trying to do. Business has been great.”

The country boys now have enough equipment to make eight barrels a week, but that will increase to 12 in June. When production capacity can outstrip demand at the bar, they plan to find a retail distributor, Beagle said.

After a couple of samples and a big slice of Goodfellas’ outstanding pizza, we pedaled back to where we started the ride: West Sixth Brewing, at West Sixth and Jefferson streets, for two beer samples and desserts from Two Birds Bakery in Midway.

West Sixth was launched April 1 by Ben Self, Joe Kuosman, Brady Barlow and Robin Sither. The brewery, which is housed in one corner of a former Rainbo Bread bakery, makes all of its beer on premises at the rate of 45 barrels a week.

Daniel Harrison, right, of Country Boy Brewing.

There are now six beers on tap, following introduction of a premium double IPA last week. “The taproom has given us a place to experiment and see what people like,” Self said.

A seventh beer — an Imperial Stout — will debut in a couple of weeks. West Sixth’s flagship IPA also is sold at the brewery in cans and growler jugs. Clark Distributing will begin this week making cans available at retail locations around Central Kentucky.

“We’ve been much busier than we could have imagined,” Self said. In addition to making money, the partners also want to give back to the community. They plan to donate 6 percent of net profits to local charities, support local organizations and be an example of environmental responsibility.

How many brewpubs can Lexington support before the market is tapped out? None of these entrepreneurs knows, but they see no sign of it happening any time soon.

If you go

Lexington Beerworks

Where: 213 N. Limestone

Hours: 1-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 1 p.m.-midnight Fri., 11 a.m.-midnight Sat., noon-11 p.m. Sun.

Learn more: (859) 359-6747, Lexingtonbeerworks.com

Country Boy Brewing

Where: 436 Chair Ave.

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 4 p.m.-midnight Thu., Fri.; noon-midnight Sat. Closed Sun.

Learn more: (859) 554-6200, Countryboybrewing.com

West Sixth Brewing

Where: 501 W. Sixth St.

Hours: 3-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; noon-midnight Fri., Sat.;, 1-6 p.m. Sun.

Learn more: (859) 951-6006, Westsixth.com