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How Mountains Help Us Grow Beer

We want to change the way you see mountains.

Most folks think of mountains as beautiful places to go camping, hiking, climbing or skiing. But they are so much more than that.

BarleyHarvest2011_05

Harvesting barley at Rogue Farms in Tygh Valley, Oregon. In the background is iconic Mt. Hood, the tallest peak of the Oregon Cascades.

Mountains have a huge impact on climate. In Oregon, they’re so important that, without our mountains, we might not be able to grow the ingredients we use in our beers, spirits, ciders and sodas. We love our mountains. Here’s how they help us grow our own.

Me And My Rain Shadow

As moist air blows in from the Pacific Ocean it has to climb two major obstacles, the Coast Range and the Cascades. Each acts like a giant dam holding back rain and clouds. On one side it’s rainy. On the other side it’s not so rainy – maybe even dry. The effect is called a rain shadow.

Oregon's Coast Range holds back clouds and rain before they reach the Willamette Valley. Photo by Kristian Skybak.

Oregon’s Coast Range stops clouds and rain before they reach the Willamette Valley. Photo by Kristian Skybak.

The Goldilocks Effect

On the rainy side of the Coast Range, the Rogue Brewery and Distillery in Newport gets 68 inches of rain annually. At Rogue Farm in Independence, on the rain shadow side, we get less than 40 inches a year.

That’s important because the hops we grow in Independence are fussy about rain. They don’t want too much and they need it the most during certain times of the year. Rain and clouds are best in winter and spring. But sun is what they need during summer.

Somehow we got lucky. The Coast Range creates that kind of hop friendly climate here in the Willamette Valley. If the Coast Range was much bigger, we might be too dry. If it were much smaller, we’d be too wet. We call it the Goldilocks effect because it’s “just right.”

Coast Range Rain Shadow

How does a rain shadow work? If you had to climb a mountain you’d probably break out in a sweat. In its own way, so does the air that flows in from the Pacific Ocean.

When moist air moves up a slope, it cools, condenses and releases the moisture as rain or snow. By the time the air reaches the other side, it’s drier. How much drier depends on the size of mountain range.

There’s a name for this, Orographic Precipitation.

From Sonoma State University.

From Sonoma State University.

The Big Kahuna

At Rogue Farms in Tygh Valley, Oregon we’re in the rain shadow of Mt. Hood. Because the Cascades are so much taller than the Coast Range, the impact is more dramatic.

On Mt. Hood’s wet side, the amount of rain and snow can easily top 100 inches of precipitation annually. But at Rogue Farms of Tygh Valley – in the rain shadow – we get less than 15 inches a year. The climate transforms from rain forest to high desert in less than 25 miles.

The malting barley we grow here rarely needs more than 15 inches of rain, and quality suffers when things are too wet. Plus, we absolutely don’t want rain during the harvest season. That causes the barley to sprout in the field and ruins it for malting.

But thanks to the rain shadow of Mt. Hood, the Big Kahuna of rain shadows, most of the rain falls in winter and the summers are very dry.

Mt Hood Rain Shadow

At Rogue Farms we’re blessed to have some of the finest beer terroir on earth. We have the best soils, the right latitude and – because of our mountains and rain shadows – a nearly perfect climate. This is why we can grow seven varieties of hops, two types of malting barley, plus jalapeños, marionberries, pumpkins, wheat, rye, corn and honey. Together they make up our proprietary palate of flavors grown exclusively for Rogue Brewmaster John Maier to brew and mash his world class beers and spirits.

Drop by Rogue Farms in Independence and experience the Grow Your Own Revolution. You may not like the weather on the day you visit, but our crops love it!

Grow_The_Revolution

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