In this edition of Mixology Spirit we speak with JD Altobello who tells us about his startup journey with RIPE and his passion for cocktails–all while building a delicious cocktail called the Basil Lemonade Fizz. RIPE produces fresh, cold-pressed juices that not only taste amazing, but enable bartenders to make spectacular cocktails. How do they do it? Well, they share the same commitment to The Spirit of Hard Work and are steadfast about doing what it takes to do things right. Special thanks to Elm City Social for allowing us to photograph on their rooftop bar.
Batchers: Where do you work and what is your role?
I am co-founder of RIPE Bar Juice–the nation’s first line of cold-pressed, fresh juice bar mixers. We founded the company ten years ago in Wallingford, CT. After several years of rapid growth, we expanded into our current home — a 24,000-square-foot facility in New Haven.
Batchers: What inspired you to launch RIPE?
Our start began in our backyard, not the back bar. My buds and I love to host barbecues and we’d make cocktails for our close friends with our own freshly made juice. Our barbeques became famous and our backyard became a familiar place for many. So much so, we decided to revamp our whole yard and make it a great space to entertain. From a patio area with furniture for everyone to sit to a freshly laid turf, thanks to trugreen PA, where friends and family could mingle, our backyard became our own hangout spot. Not to mention, the new landscaping and furniture looked pretty good on their own too. It didn’t take long before everyone told us our juice was better than anything they ever tasted and that we should bottle it and sell it. As we got serious and studied the market, we realized there was a huge void in the bar/restaurant sector. If a bartender wanted fresh juice their only option was to squeeze it themselves, a timely endeavor. Otherwise, the alternatives were powdered mixes or juices made from concentrate.
We eventually set up shop in a small industrial condominium and converted the space into a commercial kitchen. By 2010, production began, and we started to pound the pavement. We quickly signed ten restaurant and bar accounts in central Connecticut, and then got a huge break. Whole Foods surprised us by taking us into two eastern regions. All of a sudden, we were in 56 Whole Foods and we’ve been enjoying growth ever since.
Batchers: All of your juices taste so wonderful and fresh. How do you achieve such an authentic, fresh taste while maintaining an acceptable shelf life?
Our approach is meticulous and starts with sourcing non-GMO produce from carefully selected farmers that are certified Global GAP farms (Good Agricultural Practices). We only work with farmers we know because we want our customers to know exactly where their juice is coming from.
When the produce leaves our refrigerated storage units, it begins a journey of washing, grinding, and pressing to extract as much juice as possible. Unlike some food manufacturing lines that focus on speed, our process is much more measured, and that is by design. All of the machinery moves very slowly but applies a tremendous amount of pressure. Every piece of equipment in our facility is designed to minimize friction in order to reduce heat.
Pasteurization, which uses heat to eliminate bacteria, has long been the traditional method to create shelf life for juice products, but the process can negatively alter the taste of the fruit and vegetables. We incorporate a different method. After our juices are bottled and sealed, they get sent through a High Pressure Processing machine, which applies 87,000 PSI to each bottle! The pressure crushes any remaining bacteria, which enables RIPE Bar Juice to have a proper shelf life while tasting as close to fresh-squeezed juice as you can get.
Batchers: What’s been the hardest part about launching a business in such a competitive industry?
There are always a ton of challenges and unexpected surprises when starting up a new business, as well as decisions to be made (we had to think about whether or not we wanted to go down the route of registering the business with some form of Company formations organization, like businesses in the UK can). We definitely anticipated this, as being a business owner comes with a lot of hurdles that must be overcome to ensure that you can get your feet off the ground. I just didn’t realize how hard it would be. One of the first things I remember having to deal with is someone asking me if I had filed a confirmation statement. I didn’t even know what one was so I had to search “what is a confirmation statement” in Google so I could find out more about it. It basically documents and confirms the details of the company’s members… simple really. But because I had never heard of it before, it took me by surprise and that was when I realized that I was going to be faced with even more problems. I’d have to say one of our biggest challenges has been living up to a decision we made early on-the decision to never take any shortcuts. The cocktail mixer category is full of products that focus on efficiency and profitability versus quality and freshness. We have made every drop of our juice ourselves and built a manufacturing process that puts quality and fresh taste above all else. The technologies we use in our manufacturing enable us to offer juice varieties that otherwise would not be available in the market. All the while, our shelf life is equivalent to some of our “short cut” competitors. Sometimes it feels like we chose a harder path. But when we taste our finished product, we never second-guess our decision to put quality first. Now we need to look at ways we can market our business. We’ve looked into growing our online following through sites and we heard that Growthoid is top-rated.
Batchers: When did you get interested in making craft cocktails?
I have always been curious about making cocktails. If I become enamored with a particular drink, I’ll dive in and study each ingredient to figure out if slight adjustments will make it even more enjoyable to my palette. I also like drinking for the seasons. If it’s summer, I tend to experiment with gin. As fall approaches, I love mixing up Litchfield Distillery Bourbon with our Bajan Punch, which allows for an amazing collision of fruit flavors and bourbon vanillas and caramels. By the time winter roles around, you might find me enjoying a classic Bloody Mary made with Litchfield Distillery Vodka and our San Marzano Bloody Mary Mix. I guess you can say my curiosity drives me to constantly explore new flavors and recipes.
Batchers: What would you say distinguishes a good cocktail from a great cocktail?
Making a great cocktail is all about achieving a great balance. You want ingredients in a ratio where they complement other nicely without any one ingredient trying to steal the show. When you reach a perfect balance, each sip becomes a new experience that unveils something new. That’s a perfect cocktail!
Batchers: Why do you enjoy mixing cocktails with Litchfield Distillery spirits?
As a company, our preference is to work with local spirits. Obviously, RIPE is a key ingredient for the bartender community and we’re CT-local. So it’s a great opportunity when two local companies can collaborate to lift our local community to greater heights. I enjoy Litchfield Distillery’s Gin. It has a clean taste and the botanicals really come through–especially the citrus notes on the finish. Since our portfolio includes many citrus-forward juices, their Gin really complements many of our products, which creates an opportunity for countless cocktail recipes.
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work mean to you?
For me, The Spirit of Hard Work means doing what you say you will do when you say you’ll do it. At RIPE, we’ve always done the hard things because they were the right things to do. We’re driven to make superior products that deliver on our promises to customers. It takes a huge amount of hard work to never compromise on our “no short-cut” ethos. But we believe that’s what sets RIPE apart. It’s a slippery slope when you start whittling away at your beliefs. That is why you’ll always find us staying true to our brand values.
How to make the Basil Lemonade Fizz:
Add two basil leaves with ice in shaker and dry shake. Add Vodka and Lemon Sour Juice and shake again. Double strain over ice, splash with Club Soda and garnish with Basil Leaves.
Follow RIPE online on Facebook and Instagram. To learn more about RIPE and where you can find their juices, please visit their website .
About Mixology Spirit:
Mixology Spirit is a Litchfield Distillery blog series dedicated to sharing the stories of creative and passionate mixologists who embody The Spirit Of Hard Work . Think you got what it takes to be featured? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
2019 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credits: Tony Vengrove