We are in the midst of a craft food and beverage movement. Craft cocktails, craft beer, craft butchers, so why not craft juice? The New Haven-based FreshBev Craft Juicery, best known by its RIPE bar juice and Project Fresh product lines, is seeking to define the craft juice movement, one cold-pressed bottle of fresh vegetables and fruits at a time.
I had the opportunity to visit the New Haven factory (read: I was nosy and curious, so I invited myself over) to meet the folks behind the juice, taste some juice, and was excited to find a Connecticut business succeeding in the emerging and highly competitive juice market. First a little history. In 2008, frustrated by the abundance of preservative-laden shelf-stable cocktail mixers, founders Michel Boissy and Ryan Guimond took to their kitchen to create a natural and fresh juice for cocktails, beginning with everyone’s favorite cocktail staple, the margarita. The result was the Agave Margarita—a well-balanced sour and sweet combination of cold pressed Persian lime juice, filtered water, organic agave nectar, and Valencia and Hamlin orange juice. The drink became the inspiration for an entire product line, and remains their best-selling product to date.
FreshBev occupies a one-story factory near the Port of New Haven that was once occupied by the Old Perry Sausage company (queue the business comparison and laugh track). The space is home to the company’s offices, hundreds of square feet of chilly 38 degree factory floor space, and about 35 employees. The factory encompasses FreshBev’s entire operation, from cold-pressing, milling, bottling to the packaging and shipping of their products. Donning a hairnet, I took a quick tour of the factory with JD Altobello, Brand Manager at Fresh Bev, to get a peek at the life cycle of FreshBev’s products, from its raw materials starting with fruits and vegetables, to its transformation through chopping, pressing milling, bottling, filling, to finally its packaging and storing. In between is quite a bit of large and impressive looking machinery.
We’ve always wanted to be on the cutting edge without being trendy,” said JD Altobello, FreshBev's Brand Manager.
What surprised me most on my spin around the factory was the seeming dichotomy of technology with the natural. FreshBev couples cold press technology with a rigorous focus on the organic and natural. Juice, in its simplest form, is simply fruits and vegetables. FreshBev leverages technology, those aforementioned impressive machines, to keep themselves at the top of their category WITHOUT the additives and fillers that sustain much of the juice market and their huge super market shelf space.
This realization came to me with full force when I met one of the most impressive FreshBev “employees”—a large and in charge machine resembling a Japanese high speed train that is responsible for cold press process. This machine ensures the juice retains its quality while avoiding immediate oxidization, and therefore gains a bit of shelf life all the while retaining its natural integrity. There is no heat or pasteurization involved, so nutrients aren’t sacrificed.
RIPE continues to be the first and only company in the nation creating cold pressed juices for cocktails. Today the Agave Margarita is still their most popular mixer, and just one of several in their bar juice repertoire, including San Marzano Bloody Mary, Agave Lemon Sour, Agave Mojito, and Agave Punch, sold across New England at stores such as Whole Foods and bars such as Mikro, BAR, Max Restaurant Group restaurants, and with Marcia Selden catering.
A second product line, Project Fresh, has recently introduced a line of juices that are vegetable and/or fruit based intended as meal replacements, as part of a juice cleanse, or simply a vegetable-based beverage. These juices are cold pressed and micro milled (into micron-sized particles) from certified organic whole fruits and vegetables maximizing protein and fiber. The latter process means that these juices tend to have a much higher protein and fiber content than many similar juices.
So natural, fresh, cold-pressed...yaddah, yaddah, how does it really taste?
The RIPE juices are no brainers.If you're looking for a bit of convenience for your home bar, yet actually still have tastebuds and care about what you are ingesting, there is no comparison on the market. Don't even think about buying something shelf stable.
In terms of the Project Fresh offerings, I tried two juices, beginning with the Carrot, Apple Ginger blend, a crisp, light and lightly tart juice. Loved this juice, and was absolutely something I would order at a juice bar and have tried to make at home (yes, this tastes much better). I also tried their most popular, the Whole Deep Kale Blend which showcases the micromilling in its discernible pieces of kale that aren’t nearly large enough to chew but lend a substantial texture to the juice that is impossible to get at home with a juicer and rare in my experience of juice bars that tend toward smoother juices.
This kale juice took a little getting used to. I wasn't sure if I should chew or swallow the dense juice, but once I got past this initial conundrum and coached myself on the nutrient density, I immediately felt that smug afterglow that only a green juice swigging gal can feel and polished it off.