Out & About: A visit with Hall and Obi of Juniper Ridge

I’ve never been a cologne guy. It sounds ok in concept, but I’m a bit afraid; it seems so much easier to use it incorrectly than it does to achieve the desired effect. After all, I have met plenty of guys that have bad reputations because of poor cologne usage, but never someone who had a good cologne reputation (if there is such a thing – I guess that’s the sign of using it well).

Don’t get me wrong; I still love nice smells, and I like the idea of wearing a light fragrance. Cologne just didn’t seem to have a good risk/reward ratio to me, so I never bothered.

That changed quickly when I met the folks at Juniper Ridge.

Juniper Ridge is a small company making fragrances and scented grooming products from real plants harvested in the wild. All of their scents are captured and distilled by the small team of professional hikers/foragers on their frequent journeys into the West Coast wilderness. They climb trees, dig holes, and pick wildflowers until they have captured enough fragrance-filled flora to distill into oil. Large steel drums are filled with fresh plants and steam-distilled until the essential oils are extracted. These aren’t chemists in white coats mixing synthetics – these are nature-lovers making something very cool with their bare hands.

Hall Newbegin, a self-titled “plant nerd” and wilderness enthusiast, started Juniper Ridge in 1998, simply because he loved the outdoors and the plant life of the West Coast. He started making soaps and scents in his kitchen and sold them at Bay Area farmer’s markets; that continued for a while, but demand began to increase rapidly and now he leads a team of 15 people that love the outdoors and capturing its scent. I first read about them in a recent Esquire article and was so fascinated by their product that I made a point to track them down and introduce myself. I’ve now had a couple of opportunities to meet members of the Juniper Ridge team and use their products, and I’ve become a huge fan.

Hall’s team begins their fragrance-creation journey by foraging around to find the scents that best capture a physical area. Once enough plants are gathered and all the noses approve, small amounts of oil are extracted in an old whiskey still. Other processes like infusion, tincture, and enfluerage are used until all the ingredients are in the correct form. These concentrated oils are then compared and combined, an iterative process that continues until that “ah-ha!” moment of discovery. For many of the short-run “field lab” scents, the journey stops here. The small amount of oils collected are turned into a limited run of seasonal scents. This is the case for this Spring’s Topanga Canyon, which is made from many California wildflowers that only bloom for a short time each year. For their core group of scents – my favorites are Siskiyou and Caruther’s Canyon – vegetation is collected in bulk and processed in 500 gallon drums in Oakland.

The scents are difficult to describe, but at their core they smell extremely real (because they are). This is not a Chanel brand ambassador trying to conjure the idea of a “earthy, woodsy scent;” this is Hall recreating the sensation of a real place by using plants from that exact spot. Just a simple change of location, temperature, or time of year will completely alter the fragrance’s profile. That’s one of the reasons each scent has a harvest number – although Juniper Ridge carries several “stock” fragrance lines, it’s impossible to perfectly replicate them with different harvests. Rainfall, temperature, altitude, and more will have distinct effects on the final product.

I have used Juniper Ridge’s soap, cabin spray, and beard oil (even though I lack a beard), and have sampled most of the other products. They each have their own style of delivering a fragrance, but the best part is that they wear very light. Since they are not filled with “sticky synthetics,” it is almost impossible to overdose and become a walking cologne bomb. The scents last for about two hours before fading into nothingness. To me, this is one of the best aspects of the all-natural ingredient list.

It is often said that smell is the sense most strongly associated with memory; after experiencing Juniper Ridge’s products I’m inclined to agree. When I first smelled their Cascade Glacier and Siskiyou scents, collected near the area I grew up, I was immediately transported back to the outdoor escapades of my youth. I suddenly had strong memories of hiking the Trinity Alps, rafting the Deschutes river, and climbing the Middle Sister mountain. These scents weren’t reminiscent of those places, they were those places. Every time I use them it’s like taking a quick trip home. As Obi told me, “sometimes you just need to get the city out of your head”; a quick dose of this stuff does just that.

Thanks to Hall and Obi for chatting with me and letting me “sample” an inappropriate amount of product from their tester set. You can see all of their products – and read their harvest stories – on their website. You can also use this store locator to find their products in person. 

The scent library catalogs all of the plant oils used to create Juniper Ridge’s signature scents.

Their product line includes liquid cologne, spray fragrance, liquid soaps, beard and face oil, and more.

Pablo shows me how they distilled white sage on the trail for their most recent field lab scent. 

It takes quite a bit of plant matter to fill even a small vial with oil.