A Journey in Flavor at the Jelly Belly Factory

When a team of top-secret jellybean technicians came up with the idea for Jelly Belly’s “Dirt” flavor, it was intended mostly as a gimmick; just another quirky taste to go with the company’s Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans line, inspired by the Harry Potter series. But the company soon learned that the flavor managed to attract a cult following within a specific group of people: wine connoisseurs.

“They say it will give you that earthy taste that can help bring out some of the mineral or earthy flavors in a wine,” said Jelly Belly’s Vice President of Retail Operations John Jamison. “Not necessarily that it pairs well; it’s more about learning about wine and learning how to taste wine.”

But lately, Jelly Belly has started offering a little more for wine enthusiasts at their Fairfield factory, located just off of Interstate 80. The company has recently unveiled a wine and chocolate experience, available everyday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The wine and chocolate experience features pairings of in-house chocolate made by Jelly Belly, along with local Suisun Valley wines. Jelly Belly’s Fairfield factory was constructed 30 years ago, and the company reportedly wanted to remind folks that Napa residents aren’t the only masters of winemaking in the region.

“We have seen that we get a lot of our guests visiting the region because of Napa,” Jamison said. “We thought it was a great opportunity to take some of the delicious chocolates that we make and pair them up with some of the great wine in our area. We love the opportunity to promote local.”

Anyone who signs up for this experience gets to taste five pairings of one-ounce wine tastings and chocolates, along with a Jelly Belly logo wine glass, all for $15. The decision to use chocolate was made because, interestingly enough, jellybeans tend to not go together as well with wine.

In order to learn more about what’s currently being featured in the wine and chocolate experience, visit Jelly Belly’s website where you can also find a list of pairings with a brief synopsis of each variety of wine and line of chocolate, which includes pairing suggestions (see bottom of this article for a link). Since the wine and chocolate experience was opened up to the public, Jamison said the response has far exceeded expectations.

“Obviously, people may want to try it more around the holiday times, and we sell bottles of wine for people to buy as gifts, but this is an everyday thing; we’re doing it year-round,” Jamison said.

But Jelly Belly does have some events that are just special to the holiday season. First off, on the heels of the publication of this magazine was the company’s 16th annual tree lighting and holiday parade, which featured live music, floats and, of course, a gigantic Christmas tree. The folks at Jelly Belly also hold an annual Chanukah celebration, as this year’s was on Dec. 9.

After that, starting on Dec. 12, the company is offering anyone the chance to come by and have their photo taken with Santa Claus, every day through Christmas Eve.

“We certainly like to give back to the community, and you’ve got to have fun at a candy store, right?” Jamison said. “Having these events is just a small way for us to give back to the community. We do events throughout the course of the year, whether it’s celebrating the holiday season, or our Easter events, or our Candy Palooza celebration in September.”

There are no New Year’s events planned at the factory (which is closed on Christmas and New Years), but the company has recently released a champagne-flavor jellybean in time for the New Year. Jelly Belly also has a draft beer flavor available and just so there’s no confusion, both are completely non-alcoholic.

“What a great way to celebrate the New Year, with some champagne-flavor Jelly Belly beans,” Jamison said.

The company’s wine and chocolate experience might be new, but its visitor center has been around for decades, and continues to offer factory tours, a café with jelly bean-shaped hamburgers and pizza, and a sample bar seven days a week.

The company’s factory tours, which are totally free of charge, offer an in-depth look into the creation of jellybeans, all the way down to when they’re packaged up and shipped off. The tours are roughly 45 minutes long, and in order to take one you simply have to walk into Jelly Belly’s Fairfield visitor center and get in the tour line. Along the way, you’ll probably notice a bunch of art pieces that are unique to the factory: the Jelly Belly mosaics.

The mosaics on display are mostly portraits of famous Americans depicted on a wide range of huge canvases featuring vibrant colors constructed entirely by an assortment of Jelly Belly jellybeans. As you can imagine, the creative process for these is a painstaking task, but the end result is quite impressive. Some notable creations include an original portrait of Elvis Presley, among the first jellybean mosaics in history, and a portrait of President Ronald Reagan, who popularized Jelly Belly beans during his tenure as governor of California (in response, the company invented the blueberry flavor with Reagan in mind, in order to hand out jars of red, white, and blue jelly beans during his inauguration).

In a typical tour, you’ll follow your guide through a raised hallway above the manufacturing areas of the Jelly Belly factory, giving you a bird’s eye view of the various stages of the process. Along the way, your guide will show various videos about the factory’s history and explain how Jelly Belly jelly beans are made.

Each stage of the tour varies in its intensity. In the early stages, you might see some cool looking robots that pick up bunches of packaged jellybeans and dump them in boxes, or rainbows of various jellybean colors being funneled down a ramp into a bagging machine right beneath your feet.

When you get to the flavoring stage where the flavor is applied to the beans en masse, that’s when the real experience begins. You’ll know when you get to that room, because your senses will be instantly consumed by whatever flavor the folks at Jelly Belly happen to be making that day. Nine times out of ten, this will be a sweet smell of some sort and it will engulf you to the point that you’ll almost be able to taste it.

At the end of the tour, you get a sample bag of jellybeans to take home, and they don’t short you at all. It’s an ample size, bigger than fun-size candy, and much more substantial than you’d expect from a free sample. They also let you sample jellybeans at their various stages of creation, before the entire process is finished, to give you a sense of how many layers of flavors goes into each bean.

Local Happenings recently got a chance to tour the factory in Fairfield, and when we did, we got lucky. The flavor of the day was “juicy pear,” not one of the Bertie Bott’s-esque flavors like “skunk spray” or “rotten eggs” or “stinky socks.”

And why, might you ask, would a company produce flavors like “stinky socks” or “canned dog food”? Well, it’s because Jelly Belly has released a game, called Bean Boozled, which is basically a version of two-person Russian roulette applied to jellybeans. How it works is simple: Bean Boozled is essentially a box of jellybeans containing pairs of identical-looking Jelly Belly beans. Each of the identical pairs contains one normal flavor, like “berry blue,” or “peach,” and one off-base flavor, like “barf,” or “toothpaste,” or “moldy cheese.” Each player must select a bean, stick in their mouth, bite down and hope for the best.

With Jelly Belly’s (very) diverse range of flavors, what’s next for the company that doesn’t seem to have any limits? We grilled Jamison on that subject, but he wasn’t talkin’.

“You know, those are very well-guarded secrets,” Jamison said. “We’ll have to hold off until we’re ready to release them, and until that point, we’re going to try and keep it under lock and key. But in the meantime, we hope folks keep coming back and checking out what we’ve got to offer them.”

The Jelly Belly factory and visitor center is located at 1 Jelly Belly Lane in Fairfield, CA, just off of Interstate 80, and not too far from the Budweiser factory, which also offers tours. For more information on Jelly Belly’s various experiences and events, visit www.jellybelly.com or call 1-800-953-5592.

Also, for a list of wine and chocolate pairings, go to: www.jellybelly.com/resources/images/visit-us/wine_pairing_dec_2014.jpg

Gartrell3Nate Gartrell grew up in Benicia, studied journalism in college, and has written for a handful of media outlets since age 15. He aspires to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and to hit the trifecta at the horse track.