With about six years under their belts, KO Distilling is thriving in Manassas with 13 gin and whiskey products available straight in their tasting room, in their cocktails, as well as sold in 750 mL bottles.
KO Distilling is a small business that is majority-owned by former US Navy Reservists co-founders Bill Karlson (the “K”) and John O’Mara (the “O”). The former classmates at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy are also both lifelong DC area residents. Retired from government contracting and looking for another career, they researched the growing craft distillery industry, then visited several local distilleries. After attending the American Distilling Institute’s annual conference in Denver in 2013, they formed KO Distillery, which now produces Bare Knuckle Whiskeys and Battle Standard 142 Gins.
Using a 550-gallon Vendome copper pot/hybrid still to produce gin, and a 30-foot, 12-inch diameter Vendome copper continuous column still to distill whiskeys. With these stills, last year, KO produced an impressive amount of spirits. In the year, they produced 800 53-gallon barrels worth of bourbon, rye whiskey, and wheat whiskey, equating to approximately 20,000 cases of bottled spirits.
“Bare Knuckle is a play on KO for “knockout.” Battle Standard 142 is in honor of the 142 midshipmen from our alma mater who died serving their country in World War II,” Karlson explains.
To make their hand-crafted and small-batch whiskey, KO Distillery uses corn, wheat, rye, and/or malted barley harvested in Virginia. The grains come from a local farm on the Virginia Northern Neck peninsula.
“Annually, we use over 300 tons of locally sourced grains to make our whiskeys. KO’s whiskeys are true “grain-to-glass” spirits,” says Karlson.
To further the spirit of local partnership, KO Distilling donates its spent grain (or stillage) to local Virginia farmers. The farms use it as supplemental, protein-rich feed for their cattle and hogs. They also source over 300 tons of grain (corn, wheat, rye, and malted barley) per year from Bays Best Feed Farm in Heathsville. Their barley is malted by Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville.
In addition, KO Distilling employs local architects, engineers, and construction companies for service needs. Even when it comes to merchandise, the distillery looks to local makers. East to West Embroidery for apparel and hats, Element Shrub for mixers, Calico Jack’s Candles for candles in upcycled KO bottles, Shining Sol Candles for candles in rocks glasses, and Back Pocket Provisions for Bloody Mary mixes. They also partner with Conche Restaurant in Leesburg, Virginia, to provide KO whiskey flavored chocolates.
When visiting the KO Distilling Tasting Room, you will surely notice a painting by local artist Nathan Loda. Prints of the painting are also available for purchase. They sell the book, Bourbon and Bullets by John Tramazzo. The book features both KO and Nathan Loda’s painting.
With an eye toward future production, in 2020, KO Distilling will be bottling and selling some Bare Knuckle whiskey products in 700 mL bottles for export. Also, in 2020, KO Distilling will be releasing its first 4 year Bottled in Bond bourbon named after a famous Virginian.
To get a view of production, visitors can take a tour. The tour starts at the grain silo out back and then leads to the production area, the mill to the fermentation tanks, and two stills, then into the barrel room to learn about the barrel aging process. The informative tour culminates in the bottling area, where visitors learn how the spirits are bottled and labeled.
After completing the tour, you will make your way to the 2500 square foot KO Distilling Tasting Room. The cozy area is appointed with a bar, leather couches, and a warm fireplace. Visitors can now relax and enjoy the showcased collection of spirits. Take part in a tasting or enjoy a best-selling cocktail. You will meet great mixologists that are happy to craft a Manassas Mule (gin or whiskey), a whiskey cider, or a Summer cooler.
KO Distilling is on the new Virginia Spirits Trail.