In the backroom of Black Hoof Brewing Company in the heart of downtown Leesburg, Bill Haase and Brandon Flanigin are working with an array of scientific instruments, water filtration, scientific precision, and a five-century-old German tradition.
Black Hoof adheres to a beer purity law that far predates the United States—and even the first European settlers of Leesburg—by hundreds of years, the Reinheitsgebot, introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria. The law allows only for hops, barley, yeast, and water in brewing beer.
That last ingredient gets particular focus at Black Hoof, where the head brewer and co-owner, Haase, is a water engineer. When he draws water from the Town of Leesburg, before it ever touches another ingredient, it is filtered down to pure H2O, leaving only immeasurable traces of the other minerals that give the town its hard water. Then, depending on the beer the water is destined for, Haase and Flanigin add minerals back in.
“There’s not many breweries that are actually building their water profiles up from scratch,” Haase said. “So when you talk about truly handcrafted beers, we build it from the water all the way up.”
Black Hoof has made its name in Leesburg for its traditional German styles, and this week the brewers were working on a Helles for the World Beer Cup. The beer list has few of the playful—and risky—extravagances of many other microbreweries, like throwing in hot peppers or other unusual ingredients. Instead, the beers are precisely crafted, traditional European styles.
“We definitely want to brew to traditional styles, and that’s with all our beers,” Haase said. “German, English. We try to make sure that it’s as similar if you went to a pub in England and you ordered a stout or a bitter, that it’s as close as possible.”
At every step of the process, the brewers are keeping track of the pH and mineral content of the water with scientific precision. Haase has studied how the subtle differences in water have affected the history of beer in Germany—such as how the hard water in Munich led to brewers embracing darker beer, for example—and applies that knowledge to the beer he brews.
“When I was first introduced to German beers, I knew at that time that was the type of beer I wanted to produce,” Haase said. “Because they were just great beer, and you always hear people when they come back from Europe, they’re like, ‘Yo, German beer is great!’”
“The art/science balance in brewing is interesting,” said Flanigin, the assistant head brewer. “You could almost plot on a graph where every brewery kind of lands.”
Black Hoof lands decidedly on the scientific side of that. A tour of the brewery inevitably means a tour of lab reports and equipment. Flanigin said all that high-tech gears is part of “trying to respect the history.”
“Water’s the main ingredient in beer,” Flanigin said. “So for all the people that are like, ‘ah, yeah, we put a lot of effort into hops, we put a lot of effort into malt’—and water makes up what percentage of that?”
Black Hoof Brewing Company is at 11 S. King St. in Leesburg. See a behind-the-scenes slideshow of Haase and Flanigin brewing at loudounnow.photoshelter.com.