Welcome to the Indy's first of three 2006 gift guides. In this insert, we've focused on Colorado-based gifts: locally grown, harvested, built, sculpted, processed and aged items. But that's not the best part.
We've decided that the most compelling way to give our readers an abundance of utilitarian information might be to torture our intern in the process. Because, come on, who doesn't like a guy dressed in a bear suit? Especially when he raids a honey shop? (Classic!)
Enter Steve Kline, intern extraordinaire, willing to traverse the city in fur so you don't have to stare at bland photos of candy canes and mustard jars on shelves.
Oh, and the other part of the best part we didn't pay him anything! And, man, was it hot in that suit. Or so we hear.
Here's wishing you a beary rewarding shopping season. Remember: Buy local first, then look for our next two issues to satiate your online cravings. And, please, treat the ones you love, and the ones you love working with, better than we do.
Matthew Schniper, calendars editor
Comfort with a conscience
Black Forest Alpacas
E-mail Greg at email@example.com, or call 719/660-4181 for information on alpaca farms and merchandise statewide.
Alpaca is like mink for smart people. Wear it, and you're sure to not only be warm, but fashionable and no activist will throw blood on you.
Greg Smith, alpaca breeder and organizer of the recent Alpaca Holiday Extravaganza, says alpaca fiber (or fleece) ranks in the top five of natural fibers, alongside materials such as silk and mohair.
"It's finer and stronger than wool, softer on the skin and warmer," he says.
The alpaca fiber is commonly used to make products such as purses, sweaters, overcoats, socks, gloves, scarves and stocking caps, and also finer products, like lightweight summer apparel. It can also be purchased as raw yarn for craftwork and felting.
Smith operates one of 30 Colorado farms that belong to the Southeast Colorado Alpaca Breeders association. Originally a South American industry, alpaca farming has been steadily growing in the United States since the early '80s, he says. So make this the gifting season where you toss your friends and family on the fashion-wagon, alpaca style. MS
Essence is sticky
The Honey Cottage
2429 W. Colorado Ave., 329-0525
Bears are never wrong about anything. That's one reason we know honey to be just about the sweetest treat ever. Honey Cottage owner Pat Williams adds that honey is considered a universal gift, used worldwide medicinally, ritually and simply as a nice present.
"Honey is, in so many ways, the essence of a place," says store employee Xyara Asplen. Factors such as altitude, moisture and nearby flora affect the flavor, thickness, fragrance and color of honey.
"A lot of people want to give gifts from here. Others buy local honey to help fortify their immune systems against local pollens and allergens," says Williams. "We work with smaller beekeepers in state to get pure Colorado honey. It's not overpasteurized, which kills the nutritional properties."
Williams says her wildflower honey is a popular selection because it's a catchall of blossoms in a particular area. Sample it and many other local honeys in store. MS
Bread, bath and beyond
Cachet Basket Co.
7505 Tudor Road (by appointment only), 593-9458
All good things come in baskets; just ask Moses if you don't believe me. Come holiday time, who doesn't love wicker stretched to its full integrity by a smorgasbord of gourmet treats?
Cachet Basket allows you to either custom-build a basket online, or order theme-designed Colorado baskets. Among the locally made items to choose from: meats, sweets, sauces, breakfast foods, ski-related items, local pottery and art and bath products. You can even swap the basket for a wacky Elope hat or specially made treasure chest or crate.
Why else should you go local, rather than a standard mall basket? "When getting something from a large mass-produced basket, you have no idea how long [the items] have been there," says Cachet owner Beth Alexander. "They may be full of preservatives. I love to buy local because they're fresh. I know the source." MS
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
1605 Briargate Pkwy., 593-0089
Chapel Hills Mall, 1710 Briargate Blvd., 590-7623
The Citadel Mall, 750 Citadel Drive East, 591-2254
2431 W. Colorado Ave., 635-4131
If you visit Willy Wonka's chocolate factory during Christmas, you have a limited number of options when it comes to gifts. Let's see: candy, fudge, chocolate and well, more candy.
If you go to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, which resembles Willy Wonka's, with its own chocolate river and all, the decadent options extend from turtles to homemade fudge to English toffee to molded chocolate Santa Clauses and toy soldiers, made especially for the holidays.
"We're kinda like Willy Wonka; we have fun here all the time," says Mazie Baalman, owner of the Old Colorado City location.
And if you choose to head to the Colorado Avenue location for gift-buying, you can't miss the colorful mural of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the side of the building, painted by local artist Jason Baalman. CR
The gift of booze, Part I
Altius Vodka, available at local liquor stores
Colorado is famous for its microbrewed beers tasty stouts labeled with drawings of bicycles, mountain ranges and other things you shouldn't tackle when you've had a few. You don't hear much about Colorado vodkas, perhaps because most that claim to be from Colorado are distilled elsewhere.
In fact, Altius holds the "distilled in Colorado" torch alone. Not only that, but its stills are the only glass stills in the world, according to co-proprietor Corey Nigbur. "You're not getting any impurities from the metal."
So give the gift of booze this season, and hide your friend's climbing gear while he enjoys a clean vodka. SK
The gift of booze, Part II
Bristol Brewing Company
1647 S. Tejon St., 633-2555
Nothing combines coziness and chaos quite like celebrating the holidays. Except, maybe, for drinking beer. And if you're going that way, you may as well take high-quality ales, freshly brewed and bottled locally at the Bristol Brewing Co.
How about Laughing Lab, the 2006 gold winner in the Scottish ale category at the Great American Beer Fest? Or, some other award-winning microbrews, such as Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout and the Skull 'n Bones Cuvee Speciale? General manager Josh Osterhoudt can vouch for these as good gifts because, he says, "It's unique and a local Colorado tradition." CR
The gift of booze, Part III
Wines of Colorado
8045 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, Cascade, 684-0900
I've already gone on record twice this year citing Colorado bottles as being on the up-and-up in the wine world. Someday, perhaps, the names Paonia, Hotchkiss and Palisade will be as respected nationally as all those snobby California towns. In the meantime, our state's wineries continue to garner awards and support from local consumers.
Take, for instance, one of our almost-hometown favorites, The Winery at the Holy Cross Abbey, whose new 2004 Colorado Syrah release recently won the gold medal at the Colorado State Fair.
According to Marvin Parliament, owner of Wines of Colorado, his market carries 99 percent of the products from 65 in-state wineries, making it the largest distributor of local wines and most convenient place to taste up to 15 to 20 complimentary wines on any given day.
"[Wine enjoyment] is so subjective," he says, inviting people to sample and find a favorite. "Everybody's tastes are different." MS
Carved wooden bears (of course)
Nature of Things Chainsaw Art
347 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-0171
At Nature of Things Chainsaw Art in Manitou Springs, owner Bill Fee estimates he sells about a quarter of a million dollars worth of carved bear annually. (And, remember, he's not the only bear carver in town.) Sound high? Maybe, but take a look up and down your block. You're the only jerk without one. Fee's bears range in cost from $30 to $3,000, so you can probably find a bear to match your budget. Besides, it's good knowing that all the work's done locally in the factory right behind the store. Oh, and the wood is local, too.
"People pay tree services to get trees out of their yards," Fee says, "and I pay the same services to dump them off in mine."
Fee will even take customization requests, but there's little need to stray from what's in stock. There's a cowboy bear, an Indian bear, a construction bear the list getting long, Fee stops himself. "I have the entire Village People out here, man!" PF
Pigs will fly
Ranch Foods Direct
2901 N. El Paso St., 866/866-MEAT (6328)
Ranch Foods Steakhouse & Market
575 W. Garden of the Gods Road, 593-1955
In my book, anything that uses "bacon-wrapped" as an adjective is a good thing. Try it out. Instead of saying, "Monday," say, "bacon-wrapped Monday." See what an optimistic spin you suddenly get?
Now, when you take something that's already amazing, such as a sirloin filet, and bacon-wrap it ... there's too much joy for one person. Put it in a basket and share it.
Is your loved one not a bacon fanatic? "We have a variety of pre-arranged baskets," says Melissa Marts, manager of Ranch Foods Market, "but if someone comes in and they're really passionate about, say, buffalo meat and beef, we customize." And they ship 'em virtually anywhere you want. SK
La dulce vita
Cripple Creek Dulcimers
740 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9655
Holidays, Manitou-style: Lose the "Little Drummer Boy" for the "Little Dulcimer Boy" (or girl). Cripple Creek Dulcimers can handcraft a folk instrument for you in just a week's time. Or, if you want, you can buy a do-it-yourself kit, or a finished product right off the shelf. Each pre-made dulcimer will have artistic sound holes and a hand-rubbed oil finish, giving it a unique sound.
If a dulcimer isn't exactly your speed (or sound), the shop offers a handcrafted guitar called the "Double O." About the size of a classical guitar, it has a custom steel string neck and an "enormous sound." Owner Bud Ford says, "You'll have to come play it to find out."
All instruments are available year-round, but if you go now you'll find quite a steal on all non-musical items; T-shirts and gift items are all on closeout. JK
Colorado Farm and Art Holiday Market
Saturday, Dec. 9, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cottonwood Artists' School, 25 Cimino Drive
For more information, call 640-6154.
This may be better than the Muppets coming back for a Christmas special: The artists and farmers from the summertime Colorado Farm and Art Market make a one-day holiday return on Dec. 9.
On the food side, expect cold-weather treats like garlic, winter squash and apples, to go along with frozen meats, fresh bread (from local favorite Shawn Saunders) and other items. And as far as art goes, the usual suspects' pottery, jewelry, photography and paintings will be supplemented by fresh wreaths, gourd art (!) and the works of many Cottonwood artists.
Parking will be plentiful, admission gratis, and there'll be music in the afternoon. Also not to be overlooked: All works and foods will be out of the cold, inside the Cottonwood building. KW
Rock of ages
Stones, Bones and Wood
6970 E. Lake St., Green Mountain Falls, 684-2291
My parents used to threaten that I'd get rocks in my stocking at Christmas if I didn't behave. If they had been anything like the rocks Ken Nord sells, I would have been a much naughtier girl.
Ken Nord is a mineral prospector. His shop, Stones, Bones and Wood, houses jewelry fashioned from smoky quartz, amazonite, turquoise, fluorite and topaz that he and other local artists find in the Pikes Peak batholiths. Aside from his own claims, Nord represents claims with names like Dream Time Claim and Fuzzy Moe Claim. Are there minions of hippies digging around the base of the mountain, la Grateful Dead Bears?
Apparently not. Modern-day prospecting is just as rough a practice as old-timey prospecting. "We do a lot of bleeding for the minerals we have in our jewelry," Nord says.
Nord's hard work and Colorado stones are two reasons to spend your green locally this holiday season. FG
Rocky Mountain Natural Store
1502 W. Colorado Ave., 329-0180
Everyone likes soap, right? Well, except for that one cousin of yours ...
Rocky Mountain Natural Store has the perfect stocking stuffer for just about anyone. Owner Patty Barnes hand-makes all-natural soaps, paraben-free lotions, bath salts, body scrubs, bath bombs and lip balm.
Show your love by giving a beautiful alternative to chemical-laden beauty products. And since you're headed to Rocky Mountain anyway, be sure to check out all the food there. It operates as a co-op, and sells organic and Colorado-grown (when possible).
Still not reason enough? Contact the store to pre-order a gift basket, get info on the free Natural Christmas Basket class, or learn how to make your own natural soap. If that doesn't say homemade, I don't know what does. JK
The art of macaroni
The Villa Pasta Company
481-6815 or 888/ME-PASTA (888/637-2782)
Who doesn't love a big old bowl of spaghetti? You'll find tons of gourmet pasta-bilities for holiday gifts through Palmer Lake's Villa Pasta Company. Offering 100 percent natural noodles (no fat, no salt, no cholesterol, plus lower carbs than most), owner Cyndy Wood hand-cuts the pasta as it comes out of the machine.
Call Villa Pasta to find out the nearest location where you can pick up individual bags of pasta and sauce mix seasonings (i.e., stocking stuffers). Or visit the company Web site to specially order packages and Colorado-themed gift baskets. KA
Anything but common
Commonwheel Artists Co-op annual Holiday Market
Through Dec. 31; reception Dec. 9, noon to 4 p.m.
102 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1008
Buy your Christmas gifts from Commonwheel's Holiday Market, and Aunt Gladys' favorite New Year's moment will be telling her nemesis in assisted living that her necklace is one of a kind.
This season, the Commonwheel Artists Co-op has stuffed itself fuller than Uncle Charlie, the dinner bird and Santa's sack combined. Marica Hefti, a member of the co-op's Holiday Market Committee, says there are 40 local artists on display. Jewelry, wind chimes, hand-crafted toys, paintings, sculptures and terra cotta are priced starting at $6.
Keeping with its tradition, Commonwheel will have a reception Dec. 9, to coincide with the Manitou Springs Holiday Parade. Young members of the Colorado Springs Conservatory will perform while visitors peruse.
The gallery also will serve hot cider and cookies. Now, be honest: What have you ever gotten besides a headache for shopping at that brothel of conformity called the mall? FG
Contributors: Kirsten Akens, Pete Freedman, Frances Gomeztagle, J. Kelly, Steve Kline, Christina A. Roller, Matthew Schniper and Kirk Woundy.
A special thanks to Zeezo's, which donated the bear costume for our photo shoot.