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Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Owners of Westminster distillery Covalent Spirits celebrate triumph over cancer battles with special bourbon release this weekend

With the release of its Battle Bourbon on Saturday, Covalent Spirits’ co-owners pay tribute to a personal battle and celebrated the success so far of their new distillery, the only one in the City of Westminster.

The bourbon, aged for nearly 5 years and coming out of the barrel stronger than when it went in, reflects the idea of battling adversity, just as co-owner Drew Cockley did. As the whiskey matured over those five years, he survived two battles with cancer.

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“It is a personal story,” Cockley said. “I am a two-time cancer survivor and the start and stop of Covalent Spirits hinged around my health.”

And so Covalent Spirits, at 118 E. Main St., Westminster, is more than the unique liquors, chemistry-themed cocktails and industrial-chic interior it offers patrons. The distillery has become a comfortable hangout spot for many since opening its doors in November 2022, and also reflects the passions and adversities of co-owners Cockley, 55, and his wife, Jennifer Yang, 47.

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After Cockley survived his first battle with cancer in winter 2019, with the support of Yang, he told Yang that it was his turn to support her in her vision of opening a distillery. Yang surprised him with an updated version of the big-city distillery she had envisioned herself running in Washington, D.C. — a distillery in Westminster, the city she now thinks of as home.

“My big joke is that with Westminster, I moved here for love and I stayed here for whiskey,” Yang said, “because when I moved up here, it was a temporary move.”

Preparations for the distillery began in 2020. That same year, Yang was among the five finalists in the Carroll Biz Challenge, though Covalent Spirits did not end up winning the $5,000 grand prize from the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. The distillery’s opening was delayed until November 2022 after Cockley spent six months battling cancer for a second time in 2021. Cockley said he has recovered from the disease and has even run a marathon following his second recovery.

Now, the couple shares bartending duties when the distillery bar is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons. They both still have day jobs — Yang as a consultant for clients in Washington, D.C., and Cockley as principal of Bonnie Branch Middle School in Ellicott City.

Distilleries in Maryland may serve liquor and cocktails made from alcoholic ingredients distilled onsite, acting as sort of a showroom for their products, Yang said.

Covalent Spirits is one of only two distilleries in Carroll County, alongside Patapsco Distilling Co. in Sykesville. MISCellaneous Distillery in Mount Airy closed in December. Yang said Patapsco Distilling Co. owners have been a helpful resource in sourcing distilling equipment and ingredients.

The City of Westminster also helped Covalent Spirits by allowing the distillery to become the only ongoing food truck site in Westminster. Although food trucks are disallowed in the city under most circumstances, Mayor Mona Becker said the city updated its food truck policy after reviewing the distillery’s business application.

“It was really for Covalent opening their business that we addressed this policy on food trucks,” Becker said.

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Becker said the Westminster Common Council is considering the popularity of food trucks against concerns that they may take away business from established restaurants, and may further update Westminster’s food truck policy after reviewing data on the impacts of food trucks in other municipalities.

Becker said she is thrilled about what Covalent Spirits brings to Main Street.

“I’m incredibly excited to have this business open on Main Street in Westminster,” Becker said. “I think that even in the short, few weeks that they’ve been opened, they’ve added a whole new atmosphere to Main Street and started making an impact.”

Geoff Suddath of Sykesville, 31, owns and operates the Basic Bowl Bros food truck that visited the distillery on Thursday. He said he expects to serve food at Covalent Spirits several times per month for the next few months at least.

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Carroll County food trucks are required to have a commissary kitchen, Suddath said, and his business uses The Food Chick as a resource in preparing food and as a base of operations.

Basic Bowl Bros serves American-style rice bowls, including the popular burger bowl, as well as buffalo or barbecue mac and cheese. Suddath said the uniqueness of his menu matches the uniqueness of the distillery and its cocktail offerings.

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At Covalent, one popular cocktail is the Ph, or Power of Hydrogen, which changes colors due to a change in the acidity of the drink. Sweet lemon juice made in-house is combined with a blue tea and a choice of soda water, vodka or gin. The drink turns purple when mixed due to a chemical reaction, Yang said, although the mixture of colors should result in a green hue.

The gin distilled at Covalent Spirits is unique, Yang said, because it highlights the taste of citrus rather than juniper, and its distinctive flavor profile appeals even to those who do not like other gins. The distillery’s vodka is made from corn and offers a bright, fruity and mellow flavor profile; its regular bourbon whiskey is balanced and smooth while Battle Bourbon has notes of maple and a strong finish.

Each of the 100 bottles of Battle Bourbon that are for sale costs $200, and each bottle comes with the buyer’s choice of 18 ribbons, each symbolizing a different battle, such as autism, cancer, Alzheimers or other challenges. The couple will donate 10% of proceeds to a charity associated with the cause represented by the ribbons.


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