By Megan Woodward Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jennifer Yang's "Covalent Spirits" is a finalist in a local "Shark Tank" style competition in which local entrepreneurs pitch business ideas, make connections, and compete for a sizeable cash prize.
In chemistry, a covalent bond is a chemical connection made through sharing and this bond set the foundation for Jennifer Yang in bringing her distillery, Covalent Spirits, to life.
Yang and her fiance, Drew Cockley, hope the distillery's emergence in the Main Street community in downtown Westminster will encourage customers to appreciate what's in their glass.
"I'm a science geek, I love math and science," Yang said. "For me, it's that concept of bonding through sharing based on my best memories, the best moments of my life are through experience and sharing them with someone -- a meal, a concert, a cry, whatever it might be -- I love that idea.
"I really wanted our business to embrace that concept too, to connect through something shared."
Covalent Spirits is one of five finalists in this year's Carroll County Biz Challenge, a "Shark Tank" style competition in which local entrepreneurs pitch business ideas, make connections, get publicity, and compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands of dollars worth of additional prizes and services. Sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, the event is in its ninth year.
The other finalists, chosen from 29 applicants are: Dirigible Systems, RetroStrap, Together Studios, and Willet Family Farm. They will compete in the live finale at 6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 27, with contestants making their pitches to judges live at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no audience this year, but people can stream the event live at CarrollBizChallenge.com or watch it on Comcast channels 19 or 1086 and vote for their favorites.
Yang, 44, is originally from New York and moved down to the D.C. area after she graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cockley has lived in Carroll County for over 20 years and Yang moved to Westminster to be with him, joking every so often that she moved to the county for love. Yang described Carroll County as "quaint," and said the area has a good sense of community involvement.
She said she was encouraged to apply for the Biz Challenge through affiliates of the Westminster-based nonprofit organization, MAGIC, but didn't think she would be ready to apply and move forward with the idea.
"I had no idea what it was going to be like ... the day the application was due, I started working on it," Yang said. "I spent a whole day working on it, submitted it, and I'm so grateful for the folks in the area who encouraged me to do it. I've seen signs for it on Main Street, I've heard about it, but I didn't think we would be qualified or good enough to get this far. "This was a very pleasant surprise."
Yang currently runs a tasting group and tossed the idea of starting a distillery around in her head for many years. There are no distilleries in Westminster, and Yang wanted to find a location that could benefit Westminster residents, as well as those from other areas of the county. Westminster used to be the home of the Sherwood Distilling Company, which ceased operations in the late 1960s. Portions of the site were sold in the early 1970s, but the building's tall smokestacks still stand tall over downtown.
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"With Westminster being the county seat, we thought it would be great to start one here," Yang said. "There's this history that I love ... Main Street could use another infusion of economic energy and it kind of all jelled together last year. I told myself I was running out of excuses, so it was basically put up or shut up."
Yang said a distillery is a very capital-intensive endeavor. Starting one from the ground up costs a lot of money and could take several years to pay off as well. She spent the last month-and-a-half getting merchandise printers and finalizing the distillery logo with hopes that the distillery will be ready to open next summer.
If Covalent Spirits wins the Biz Challenge, Yang said the prize money would go to funding a cocktail lounge "different from anything else on Main Street," as well as fermentation tanks, the tasting room furniture, and the external facade of the distillery as well.
"As you get older, your palate changes and shifts," Yang said. "I think one of the things we're going to want to focus on is making gin, vodka, whisky, some different liqueurs and brandy as well. We want to be known as the place people can come to for the experience and we want to experiment as well, play with interesting flavor profiles and interesting techniques. "We want people to just have some fun." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.