Gustatory gift ideas for the giving season

click to enlarge DIY cheese from Buckley’s - MATTHEW SCHNIPER

  • Matthew Schniper
  • DIY cheese from Buckley’s

Holidays are feasting times, naturally. And along with the plethora of gifted big-box items and woolen things, goodie baskets and stocking-stuffers tend to include candies and anything from jelly and jam assortments to meat and cheese boards, to spirits and commercial chocolates. Yeah, you can buy a lot of that stuff online or from major-label food producers via grocery and department stores. But, as always, we’re going to direct you instead to look locally for unique and special items that show much more personality and love. Plus, these items will generally be more boutique- and craft-oriented, meaning better ingredients and authenticity where it matters.

Some of the following recommendations are pretty straightforward, like “buy and eat me!” While others hold a more experiential element, like “DIY or learn-to-make.” None of these selections will break the bank (“Surprise, sweetheart, I got you that $400 Vitamix you’ve been wanting!”), so I’m only including prices where the detail proves significant, or if we go past $50. I’m also counting on you to go online for necessary info as I’m name-dropping too many places to include contact details. The following represents just a small selection from around town, of course, so if you don’t see exactly the right gift for your loved one, these picks will at least get you thinking about similar possibilities. So, gift on, consumerist comrades, and enjoy the holidays!

Let’s start with Chocolate, because a) It’s the greatest substance on Earth and b) You can’t go wrong by gifting it.

click to enlarge Something yum from CocoPrana - MATTHEW SCHNIPER

  • Matthew Schniper
  • Something yum from CocoPrana

Skip the cloying commercial crap made with an exhaustive ingredient list and stick with the real deal, where a proper cacao content means your giftee won’t get lost in bland land. Radiantly Raw Chocolate regularly sells themed truffle six-packs like a Coffee Lovers option and even an Aphrodisiac Assortment (“…Did someone say Sexy Santa? I thought I heard my name…”). But look for special seasonal flavors like a cherry hazelnut filled with dark chocolate ganache. Supplement those with an infused local raw honey gift pack, featuring ghost chile, lavender, and orange jasmine flavors. Cacao Chemistry fills your need for a hollow, molded mini Santa for $12, but for the fancy pants in your life, you can buy one of the primo $50 Santas, which is solid dark chocolate throughout and plated in edible 24-karat gold leaf. Shiny! The shop also sells pre-made gift baskets full of choco goodness, plus macarons and anywhere from four- to 23-piece truffle sets. Pikes Peak Chocolate and Ice Cream similarly vends a fine truffle array, but should be considered for its chocolate bark and fudge selections too, like a salted caramel flavor.

Hooch for the holidays. It’s definitely a thing.

click to enlarge An aging barrel of your own from Axe and the Oak Whiskey House. - COURTESY AXE AND THE OAK

  • Courtesy Axe and the Oak
  • An aging barrel of your own from Axe and the Oak Whiskey House.

Anyone can easily go by one of our town’s fine liquor stores and find all kinds of good gift products, whether your giftee is an oenophile, beer nerd, scotch fanatic or cider slut. True, that’s one way of shopping local, though many of the items will have voyaged from afar. So in addition to that, why not go hyper local with drinkables direct from our town’s tap and tasting rooms? In the beer realm, this might be a growler from one of our 30-plus breweries or a crowler to extend the window in which to consume fresh, from the growing list of breweries canning with them, including Phantom Canyon, Metric, Brass, Goat Patch and Cerberus breweries. For schwag, most spots offer T-shirts or ball caps or maybe glassware, but Bristol Brewing Company stands alone with its broad scope of stylish giftables. Though liquor stores do carry many local bottles of spirits, we find it better to visit tasting rooms to sample before you commit to a bottle. Newbie Blackhat Distillery deserves a visit, 300 Days of Shine has a standout selection, and Black Bear Distillery continues to evolve in interesting ways. But, since whiskeys continue to dominate the day, here’s two spots worth tuning in to: Axe and the Oak Whiskey House, in addition to offering two- and three-bottle gift boxes featuring their Hill Shine, rye and bourbon at a discounted bundled price, has constructed a special build-your-own-whiskey gift set. For $75, you get a logo-etched, 1-liter American Oak barrel, a bottle of Hill Shine (white dog) and a bag of toasted staves to age your whiskey as you see fit. Instructions and recipes for adjunct options are included, and the barrels will last through a few agings before retiring as a cool decor item in your kitchen or home bar. Distillery 291 has also bundled a bunch of its items into clever gifts, like a $50 Decc the Halls box containing a bottle of holiday-appropriate The Decc citrus-clove liqueur and two etched 291 Whiskey glasses. There’s also a similar We Like It Neat set and 291 Old Fashioned kit, a Date Night option that includes a house tour and tasting, and the swank, $150 291 Flagship & A Flask gift, a leather-wrapped copper flask handmade by Whiskey Leatherworks and a bottle of 291 Colorado Whiskey — Single Barrel.

click to enlarge High-end Klaus from Cacao Chemistry - MATTHEW SCHNIPER

  • Matthew Schniper
  • High-end Klaus from Cacao Chemistry

People want to buy experiences, not things.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard that statistic about millennials, about how their generation prefers experiences over things. It’s smart thinking. And in the context of gift-giving, it sorta invokes the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” So instead of giving a consumable good that’s quickly concluded, what about sending your giftee to a cooking class to learn a skill? Among local learning centers, The French Kitchen sports a team of specialized instructors who keep a monthly calendar of diverse offerings stuffed like the filling of a delicate pastry. In classes limited to six to 12 students, learn to make your own chocolate or holiday bûche de Noël (Yule Logs, during December only, $69), or study up on concocting the perfect croissant at home with that newly added class. Of note, their pastry counter also provides superb cakes, breads and pastries for giving. Gather Food Studio also produces an abundance of alluring tutorials in the $45-to-$75 range for two- to three-hour classes that are limited to eight people and include a communal meal. They pay special attention to international cuisines to break you out of old at-home habits, but who can resist a sweets class called Total Eclipse of the Tart? Another gift option that’ll stretch your dollars ($50, to be exact) is an entire year of Gather’s new Spice of the Month Club, which starts in January and meets for an hour every third Monday evening to learn about more obscure seasonings, like Ras al hanout or Ibzar. Students will chat history, blend the spice on-site, then co-make a sample recipe to taste, and leave with a bag of the spice to experiment with at home.

click to enlarge Colorado-themed everything from Sparrow Hawk. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER

  • Matthew Schniper
  • Colorado-themed everything from Sparrow Hawk.

Grab-bag gifting. Here’s a bunch more unrelated ideas for food-and-drink fans…

A few quick ideas for other experiences outside of formal cooking classes: high tea at Glen Eyrie or Miramont Castle; a traditional Chinese tea ceremony at Yellow Mountain Tea House; or completely across the spectrum, gift some seats on the Local Motive Party Bus, whose December schedule hosts pub crawls like A Christmas Story brunch crawl, an ugly sweater night, Christmas lights tour, and Santa Dive Bar tour.

With the word “experiential” still fresh in mind, Buckley’s Homestead Supply sells several items that will keep your giftee busy in the kitchen at home. Look for fermentation sets perfect for making anything from sauerkraut to kimchi and pickles, canning supplies, cheese-making kits and kombucha-brewing gear. Also on the drinkable side of at-home fermentation, places like Fermentations and Old West Homebrew Supply have you covered on wine-, mead- and beer-making equipment and ingredients. Sparrow Hawk sells a superior selection of kitchen gadgets, cookware, bakeware, utensils, dinner- and drinkware, and on and on. Consider cool items like skull-shaped ice molds, or sphere or orb molds for fancy cocktails at home; ironic, vintage-style napkins; newly added Colorado flag emblem goods like coffee mugs and cutting boards; and, you can’t eat ‘em but you can wear ‘em: taco socks. Bags of coffee from local roasters are an obvious gift idea, but look for special one-offs to add impact to your gift. One example: Solar Roast Coffee sells limited-release roasts in neat hand-numbered packages, like a 20-week barrel-aged bourbon coffee. Savory Spice Shop or Penzeys Spices make for an easy stop for, you guessed it: spices.

click to enlarge A rainbow of popcorn flavors from Cole’s Gourmet Popcorn & Treats. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER

  • Matthew Schniper
  • A rainbow of popcorn flavors from Cole’s Gourmet Popcorn & Treats.

If there’s a popcorn fiend in your family, Cole’s Gourmet Popcorn & Treats sells an enormous array of sweet and savory popcorns and mixes, ranging from curry coconut and Frito chile pie to blueberry, cinnamon and Oreo flavors. Their 275-cup Party Bags are the size of a small child — you will be legend if you carry one into a party. Look toward our cottage foods industry for many worthwhile gifts. Just one product that caught my attention recently is a lavish, coffee-infused Bulletproof Coconut Butter from CocoPrana, just one of their six current flavors. CocoPrana’s sold at Radiantly Raw and at the Sourdough Boulangerie, which deserves a mention alongside Nightingale Bread, as spots to buy fabulous loaves for gifting. For meat gifting ranging from steaks to jerky and sausage, keep it local with goods from places like Corner Post Meats, Black Forest Bison and Ranch Foods Direct.

click to enlarge A gift of cooking moxie from the experts at The French Kitchen. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER

  • Matthew Schniper
  • A gift of cooking moxie from the experts at The French Kitchen.

And, lastly, being the age-old fall-back, just give someone a gift certificate to their favorite local, independently-owned restaurant, bar, coffee shop, brewery, distillery, cidery, meadery, winery, juice or smoothie or kava bar, ice cream shop, etc. It’s a creatively lame move, but nobody hates a free meal or drink. Happy holidays, shoppers!