It's a gorgeous fall day: Opaquely blue sky, a smattering of orange crunchy leaves scattered across the ground. I'm taking my time on a casual bike ride down North 8th Street in Williamsburg, savoring the fresh air. Then I smell it, a dense, wild and fresh scent pouring out of a storefront that makes me whip my head around. It's coming from the Juniper Ridge pop-up shop, located inside a small room attached to Fellow Barber.
To call Juniper Ridge a fragrance company doesn't really do it justice. It's more like a hiking souvenir company, evoking visceral memories of walking through the woods. They call themselves a "wilderness fragrance distillery." Whatever, it's magic.
There's the Backpacker's Cologne, which has ingredients like tree pitch, plant sap, and organic sugar cane alcohol. Cabin spray (I suppose you could use it to scent your apartment, too) comes in fragrances that evoke Big Sur, Yuba River and Cascade Glacier. Or scent your room like Death Valley with some of Juniper Ridge's incense.
From a stand at a San Francisco farmer's market in 1998 to an operation of 12 people, Juniper Ridge still does all their own production from beginning to end. The whole operation is headed up by Hall Newbegin, a passionate hiker/backpacker just trying to bring the scent of the outdoors to his customers. Drop by the shop, and you might find him there, manning raw wood counter.
"Fragrance is a human right. It's deeply embedded into our emotions," he says. "If you're a gardener, you love fragrance. If you cook, you love fragrance. Or walking down the streets in the fall, that smell in the air. That is fragrance."
Just take the Winter Redwood scent. To develop it, they made a bong-like tool to smoke live oak chips into the potion, adding matsutake mushrooms as well. It's meant to evoke the experience of mushroom picking in the fall, with the smell of woodburning stoves hanging in the air.
Newbegin is dismissive of--no, indignant about--what people usually think of fragrance, the synthetic, petrochemical concoctions found in department stores. "People think they know what cedar smells like, like the synthetic one-note perfume that's turned out by a factory in China. It smells nothing like our western cedars." He holds a glass bottle with a dubious mixture swishing around the bottom to my nose. I'm struck by a honey-sweet fragrance that's more pastries and spring than Christmas and carols. Then he has me smell from another bottle, also cedar. This one his a spike-y, sharp, woodsy smell.
"We work with abut 280 ingredients--they're virtually unknown to the fragrance industry," Newbegin says. "We never buy outside ingredients. We put on our hiking boots, knock on a rancher's door, make a deal, and harvest." That always involves a sustainable harvest method of trimming the tops of plants that have evolved to be trimmed by foraging elk and other animals--they'll grow back quickly. Or they'll use underbrush that's been cleared by the state to prevent wildfires, so that it's not burned, which releases carbon into the atmosphere.
Then they use the traditional methods of tincturing, steam distillation with a whiskey distill, infusion and enfleurage (soaking in oil) to extract the scents into useable form. 10% of profits to groups that defend and expand western wilderness, like Oregon Wild, Washington Wilderness Coalition, and Save our Wild Salmon.
Juniper Ridge really pulled out all the stops to do the pop-up shop, so you must do them the courtesy of stopping by. You can check out the old whiskey distill they use, which is sitting outside the shop on the sidewalk. In the back, there's a small room they call the "transporter" where you can try a rotation of different scents, while looking at pictures of the wild place it comes from and watching vintage footage of the region. And finally, peruse the products nestled among redwood bows harvested right in Brooklyn, on the reclaimed wood counter.
Just a thought: Christmas is coming up.
The pop-up shop will be at 101 North 8th Street between Berry and Wythe until December 21st. It's open Monday through Friday, 12 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Stop by on Friday at 6 p.m., when they're serving redwood cocktails, made from specially-crafted, sweet redwood syrup.