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Food & Drink

Bits & Bites: New whiskey distillery opens in Westminster, Texas brisket smokes Baltimore, and tacos with tequila in Anne Arundel

For many bar and restaurant owners, the hospitality business is a deeply personal venture. Baltimore is filled with dining spots with rich back stories. In this week’s column, I share two new businesses that were born out of passion, one for whiskey, and the other for smoked meats.

I also have updates to share about the old Red Emma’s space in Mt. Vernon and a new restaurant in Anne Arundel County.

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Molecular mixology in Westminster

Westminster's new Covalent Spirits distillery is hosting a holiday cookie cocktail series, featuring a new cocktail each week that's inspired by a festive treat, including the gingerbread martini.

Jennifer Yang moved to Westminster for love and stayed for whiskey.

Yang, a Washington-area resident for nearly 20 years, relocated to Westminster to live with her now-husband, Drew Cockley. Last month, the couple opened the doors to Covalent Spirits, the town’s first new distillery in decades.

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Though she’s an IT consultant by day, spirits have been a passion for Yang for the past decade and a half. She ran a whiskey tasting club and a tasting event side business before learning to distill her own liquor a few years ago. The MIT graduate and self-described geek at heart says she’s always been interested in figuring out how different flavors are created in the distilling process.

“As I explored new aspects of it, I got deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of researching,” she said. “I thought it would be cool to make my own.”

In the Covalent Spirits tasting room, Yang takes a scientific approach to cocktails, too. Drinks are mixed in beakers and graduated cylinders double as barware. One of the distillery’s signature drinks, the Power of Hydrogen, or “pH,” features butterfly pea flower tea, which changes color from blue to magenta when acid from lemon juice is added. Science even factored into the distillery’s name. “In chemistry, a covalent bond is one formed through sharing,” Yang explained, “and we believe that the best connections are created through something shared.”

The distillery and tasting room are located in Westminster’s City Garage building, a recently renovated former auto garage. Yang said it’s the first distillery to open in the town since the Sherwood Distillery Co. shut down in the 1950s.

Next year, Yang and Cockley plan to launch educational workshops at Covalent Spirits for people who want to learn about the basics of whiskey, gin and other spirits, as well as experiment with flavors and techniques.

And this month, the distillery is hosting a holiday cookie cocktail series, with a new drink each week that’s inspired by a festive treat. Last weekend’s offering was a gingerbread martini; next up is a white chocolate peppermint martini.

Brisket — not barbecue — at Whitehall Market

Torrance "Hub" Hubbard, right, and Allan McDowell will launch The Brisket Hub at Whitehall Market in December. The smoked meats stall has plans for a three-month pop-up at the market.

Emergency management consulting brought Torrance Hubbard to the Baltimore area. But when his work contract abruptly ended, he decided to take a passion for smoked meats and turned it into a day job.

Hubbard, who goes by “Hub,” is a Houston native who knows his way around a smoker. Starting this Friday, he’ll be serving up smoked brisket, chicken and turkey as part of a new pop-up at Hampden’s Whitehall Market.

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Hub, his wife Gail Hubbard, and their friend Allan McDowell launched their smoked meats concept, called The Brisket Hub, last summer. They spent a successful three weeks in a pop-up at R. House earlier this year.

Just don’t call it barbecue. Hub cooks his brisket in the smoker for 10 hours, longer than the cook time for barbecued meats. Another tip: consider skipping the sauce. Though The Brisket Hub will have barbecue sauce available, true Texas brisket is seasoned with salt and pepper and nothing else, according to Hub. That’s one way he can tell a Texan from a Marylander: “If they’re from Texas, they don’t put sauce on it,” he said.

Hubbard and McDowell, a longtime chef for Camp Chipinaw in upstate New York, are also cooking up vegetarian baked beans and sweet country slaw as side dishes. Catch them at Whitehall Market for the next three months.

After that, Hub said he has big plans for The Brisket Hub and beyond, including searching for a property to start a community farm for youth.

“We want to be philanthropic and give back to the community,” he said.

Tacos and tequila in Hanover

Margaritas and Mexican cuisine are the focus at a new restaurant in Anne Arundel County.

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Añejo Rose Cantina & Tequila Bar opened Tuesday inside The Hotel At Arundel Preserve, near the Arundel Mills mall and Maryland Live Casino. The concept from the New York-based George Martin Restaurant Group serves food with “deep roots in regional Mexican cooking,” according to a news release, which highlights menu items like ceviche, skillet taco and house specialties like organic tortilla-crusted salmon, Chimichurri skirt steak and crab-and-shrimp enchiladas.

The restaurant, which replaces Vivo Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar inside the hotel, also offers a lengthy list of blanco, reposado and añejo tequilas, as well as mezcals, Mexican beers, wine and mixed drinks like margaritas.

Not so anonymous anymore

I noted last week that Red Emma’s has completed the move to its new “forever home” in Waverly. Now I have some news about what will be replacing the bookstore/cafe in Mount Vernon.

A new restaurant called The Anonymous has plans to open in the space at 1225 Cathedral St. Raissa Batchankwe told the city’s liquor board last week that the concept will be an Afro-fusion fine dining restaurant serving “Western dishes with a little bit of African spice.”

“We are trying to bring the space back to life,” Batchankwe told liquor board commissioners, noting the building’s past life as a jazz club owned by Baltimore’s own “First Lady of Jazz,” Ethel Ennis. Over the years, the space has also been home to Spike & Charlie’s, a joint venture by culinary brothers Spike and Charlie Gjerde, as well as Ryleigh’s Oyster.

“We want it to be very pretty, very high-end, welcoming to the community and also provide jobs for youths,” Batchankwe said of The Anonymous. The soon-to-open restaurant is already selling tickets for a New Year’s Eve celebration featuring comedy shows, live music, three bars, hookah and a complimentary champagne toast at midnight.

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Restaurant recap

In other food and drink news:

•Canton seafood spot Mama’s on the Half Shell is opening a Baltimore County outpost. The second Mama’s will be located at the Foundry Row shopping center in Owings Mills and is aiming to open next year. In a statement, owner Jackie McCusker says “it has always been a dream to bring Mama’s on the Half Shell out to the county.”

Shake Shack has an opening date in Brewers Hill: the burger chain will open its second Baltimore location on Dec. 14 at 10:30 a.m., a company representative tells me. The Boston Street restaurant will be the first Shake Shack in Maryland to offer a drive-thru.

•A new wine store is on the way to replace the shuttered Wine Works in Mt. Washington. Steven Groenke, a former manager, wine buyer and sommelier for The Wine Source in Hampden, has plans to open a fine wine and spirits shop in the space at 1340-E Smith Ave., next to Whole Foods Market. The new spot will also feature a small tasting bar, according to Groenke’s attorney, Stephan Fogleman.


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