When four guys decided Lexington, Ky., needed high-quality local craft beer, it wasn’t enough for them to just start a brewery — they wanted to make sure their business would protect the environment, even if it cost more to do so.

“When we started West Sixth, we wanted to start with the goal of not just making great beer but [putting] social consciousness at the forefront,” says Ben Self, one of the co-founders of West Sixth Brewing Company.

Finding a Home

That started with finding the perfect building: a century-old bread factory that had sat empty for five years. “It was important to take a building already built and adaptively reuse it,” Self says.

The building is in an area people can walk or bike to, and they reused as many of the materials as possible when renovating it. They also commissioned an artist to do a mural outside with some of the waste.

Inside, the tables are all recycled barn wood, the chairs people sit in are reclaimed from a university in New York, and the old loading dock from the bakery is now the top of the bar.

“It’s so much better and more environmentally friendly to reuse one of these older buildings that’s already sitting out here,” Self says.

The massive 90,000 square feet the building encompasses has also allowed West Sixth to open their doors to other interesting groups. That includes FoodChain, a nonprofit that provides education and hands-on training for indoor food production and processing. They’ve been taking spent grain that comes out from the brewing process and using it to feed tilapia. The waste is then converted to beneficial bacteria to plant food. It all takes one-tenth the water of conventional agriculture.

“One of the great things about having this older building is we can give other organizations room to come in and experiment and build really cool things,” Self says.

Cans Can Be Good

“Traditionally, a lot of the better beers were not put in a can, but the public is starting to come around and know that good beer can come in good cans,” Self says.

“Canning is generally much better for the beer; it keeps out light or air better,” he adds. “Cans are welcome in a lot of places that bottles aren’t, like the beach, at a pool, on a hike, or floating along a river.”

If you’re not local to Lexington but want to do your part to support eco-conscious beer, Self recommends seeking out a brewery near you.

“Anytime you’re supporting something that’s made local, it’s certainly more environmentally friendly than buying a beer from halfway across the country that has to be shipped here,” he says. “Try to enjoy something local and look to see what that brewery really stands for.”

By Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of publications, covering everything from sustainability to fitness to travel. Read more of her work here.