Cattle ranchers brewing up new business venture

Jessica Holdman
The Bismarck Tribune, N.D.

Wagon wheel and barbed wire chandeliers hang from the ceiling of the nearly 70-year-old round-top barn built by Jewell Doan Sr.

Wood from an old cattle barn, some of it aged more than 130 years, hangs on the wall.

A Soo Line railroad bridge running across the ranch’s section of Hawk Creek provided some of the lumber for the “saloon” and a petrified skull from an old buffalo jump on the property hangs above the bar.

Each part of the barn turned event center at the Black Leg Ranch tells a story about the homestead, settled by the Doan family in 1882. And now Jay Doan is writing yet another chapter into the operation’s storybook that, like everything else in the building, harkens to the history of the homeplace.

Black Leg Brewery is preparing to distribute its own beers within the next month. This business venture is just the latest the next generation has added over the past decade.

“We’ve been trying to develop more agricultural-based tourism for a number of years,” said North Dakota Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman.

Alongside being a working cattle ranch, Black Leg stepped up to meet that need with hunting and a dude ranch-style experience called Rolling Plains Adventures.

“They’ve evolved and expanded, and they just keep evolving with cool new amenities,” Otte Coleman said.

Doan is brewing his beer with North Dakota grown and malted barley from Two Track Malting in Lincoln. After the brewing is complete, a portion of the spent grains will be fed to some of the family’s cattle herd.

Doan said he has two brew concepts — both of which are meant to serve as a taste of North Dakota and its agriculture industry.

“That’s really what we do,” he said. “We’re telling a story, leaving a legacy.”

One way he hopes to accomplish this is by using the ranch’s well water, with its unique taste, to brew.

“It might totally bomb, but I want to try it,” he said.

Otte Coleman said the farm-to-table trend is one that isn’t going away and Black Leg Brewery fits well into that.

“I think it resonates with people,” she said. “As people become more urbanized ... they’re really hungry and thirsty for the information about where their food comes from.”

“And when you can round off your amenities like that, it just helps set you apart,” Otte Coleman added about the benefits the brewery could bring to the ranch’s agritourism operations.

This isn’t Doan’s first time working in the beer industry. Though his focus has been on brand development, Doan worked for one of the nation’s leading distribution company, Hensley & Co., before joining Anheuser-Busch. He aims to put the skills he picked up from those companies to work at his own business.

The fully automated brew house is equipped with a 15-barrel, 30-keg system. Doan plans to distribute his brews in Bismarck-Mandan as well as serve it during events hosted at the ranch.

Doan said Black Leg Ranch hosts 20 weddings each year, as well as corporate events, educational tours for area schools and international visitors.

Otte Coleman said the demand for more destinations such as Black Leg Ranch far exceeds supply. And she said those same attractions that bring in visitors also provide vibrant, fun experiences for existing residents that adds to the local economy.

“Certainly a couple who gets married there might have had a destination wedding elsewhere,” she said of having these those dollars retained within the state.