Colorado First: Sweet Dreams

John Lehndorff

Once upon a time, on the west side of Denver, you could smell green apple one day and watermelon the next. Jolly Rancher, for years Colorado’s most famous name in sweets, produced about 1 million pounds of hard candy a week in Wheat Ridge until the plant closed in 2002.

“I remember when the whole town smelled like candy,” said Nina Goehringer, who crafts sweets at the Georgetown Valley Candy Co.

The state’s health-conscious residents may prefer agave-sweetened kale chips, but candy still rules the road—locals and visitors alike driven by sweet memories of holiday confections at Colorado’s independent candy makers, shops, and stores. It’s not Christmas for a certain food writer unless he has chocolate-covered cherries and maple sugar candy in his stocking. (Hint, hint.)

Here’s a holiday hint for busy hosts: Get your guests out of your house for a few hours by sending them out on the Colorado candy trail. There’s a store nearby that’s worth the drive. Remind them not to come home without stocking stuffers.

Piece, Love & Chocolate

805 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-449-4804

The Summer of Love whimsy of this Boulder boutique belies the deadly serious business of globally sourced chocolate.

“My rule is that everything in the shop must involve chocolate,” said owner Sarah Amorese. The décor traces where cocoa begins its journey: The jungle. Amorese and her artisans transform the cocoa into truffles and filled chocolates that are as far from factory candy as Boulder is from Ecuador.

During snow season, we recommend warming up with a signature chocolate-filled cocoa croissant and a demitasse of sipping chocolate—a.k.a., warm, liquid milk chocolate. Be certain to snag a 20-piece box of chocolates (randomly chosen by the staff) for your annual viewing of Forrest Gump.

Patsy’s Candies

1540 S. 21st St., Colorado Springs, 866-372-8797
Also in Manitou Springs

Not far from the North American Defense Command (NORAD) inside Cheyenne Mountain—the secure location which “tracks” Santa Claus’ path around the globe each Dec. 24—Patsy’s Candies gifts the world with small batches of fresh candy. The kitchen is almost always busy. Watch the magic through the big windows.

The factory store dishes made-to-order ice cream churned with chunks of Patsy’s candies. The glass counters are packed with everything from handmade, cream-filled chocolates and truffles to peanut butter-filled nuggets and hard-to-find licorice butter caramels.

Summer season tours at Patsy’s take groups of hairnet-ed visitors behind the scenes for noisy entertainment. One of the attractions is a giant pot filled with 2,500 pounds of chocolate—

a spa that pipes liquid milk chocolate to the candy-making counters.

Georgetown Valley Candy Company

500 6th St., Georgetown, 303-569-2778
Also: Foote’s Rest Sweet Shoppe & Eatery, Frisco

Late-morning sunlight casts a warm glow through the stained glass at Nina and Rube Goehringer’s candy kitchen in Georgetown. The old ways, going back to 1985, coexist with some new ones in making caramel corn, salt-water taffy (from black walnut to rum), and six types of nut brittle in small batches. The chocolate walnut fudge barely waits to hit your tongue before it melts.

Meanwhile, the store stocks a line of Spice Trader’s Chocolate Bars, with global flavors created by her chef/son Scott: Aztec Tiles, New Delhi Melts, Captain Cook’s Compulsion, and Chocolate de Provence—the latter infused with rosemary, lavender, sea salt and a pinch of mustard.

The store is worth a stop just for the premium ice cream blended with house-made English toffee, brownies, and cookie dough. Our vote for tastiest unlikely flavor: Sour cream and poppy seed ice cream.

CandyTime Shoppe

500 Main St., Grand Junction, 970-628-4252

Personal taste led owners Ben and Elise Hall to stock bins of Bonomo Turkish Taffy, Walnettos, Pop Rocks, Slo Pokes, El Bubba Bubble Gum Cigars, and hundreds of other candies. The couple searches all year for the seasonal candies stacked high in the shop, including candy decorations, imported marzipan, and Kinder chocolates. Cool interactive stocking stuffers include Japanese candy making kits and candy building blocks.

For some travelers, the most-treasured finds on the shop’s international shelves include British Kit-Kat, Coffee Crisp bars, Asian Hi Chew candies, and one decidedly acquired taste: Dutch Diamond Salty Licorice.

“A lot of customers come in just for the Hispanic candies,” Ben Hall said. The large collection includes candies flavored with mango, chili, salt and tamarind.

For the 10-year-olds, consider Dog Drool Soda, Fruiti Farts candy, baseball-sized jawbreakers, lollipops with bugs inside, and Jelly Bean Roulette. The later delivers an unmarked jelly bean that could be cherry- or barf-flavored.

Enstrom’s Candies

701 Colorado Ave., Grand Junction, 970-242-1655

A caramel cloud envelops you inside the front door of Enstrom’s. During the holidays, when production is going full blast, visitors sit at tables and watch a mesmerizing confectionary factory at work behind wall-to-wall plate-glass windows. Workers dressed in white and hairnets add sugar and butter by the pound to a row of kettles, and quickly spread a bubbly molten mass of toffee over a water-chilled table. There they swab the toffee with chocolate, top it with stainless steel buckets of chopped almonds, and slice it into slabs. Check with the store for optimal times to watch. Enstrom’s store also serves pastries and coffee, yet the best treat is seeing the truffles and filled chocolates and toffee-infused popcorn being made.

Radiantly Raw Chocolate

3312 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., Colorado Springs, 719-749-6176
Also: 116 Canon Ave., Manitou Springs 

This Colorado Springs-born confectioner creates chocolates from raw, organic ingredients: Raw coconut oil, honey, cacao powder and vanilla extract. Owner Jacquie Mosher said that demand is high for treats free of gluten, dairy, refined sugar, soy, or GMOs.

Bestsellers among a slew of flavors include 80 percent Salty Double Dark hearts, made with Peruvian cocoa, and sprinkled with mineral-rich Himalayan pink salt. Doubters have been won over by the Rawlo (with a cacao butter-maple syrup “caramel” filling) and the Elvis Style Cup, with almond-cashew butter and bananas.

The Grinning Coconut truffle quite literally melts in your mouth. The coconut, honey and almond filling tastes like a Mounds bar, yet it isn’t so sweet that it rattles your fillings.

For the holidays, Mosher and company are packing special gift boxes with seasonal flavors including Colorado White Chocolate Cherry and a truffle filled with pistachio butter, orange and cranberries.

John Lehndorff eats well for the benefit of Boulder Weekly readers, which publishes his Nibbles column, and listeners of Radio Nibbles every Thursday on radio station KGNU 88.5 FM in Boulder.