Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - 12

DISTILLERIES
KO Distilling, Manassas
Two former Merchant Marines have combined talents and visions
to reach the seven-year mark of success.
COURTESY OF KO DISTILLING
T
The KO
product
line spans
whiskey,
bourbon
and gin.
his year, KO Distilling in Manassas
celebrates seven years in business.
And whiskey lovers know what a little
age on a distillery implies.
Like most craft distilleries, KO started
out with clear spirits-in this case, gin
and white whiskey: " I was a big bourbon
fan, and John [O'Mara], my business
partner, was a big gin lover, " co-founder
Bill Karlson told Bourbon & Banter. " But
ultimately, the biggest decision we ever
made was to age whiskey. " Now, after
seven years of distilling and barreling,
KO offers award-winning aged whiskeys.
Those whiskeys are the centerpiece of
an expansion plan that will share some
of the best of Virginia with new markets
across the country.
The newest additions to the KO
portfolio include Bare Knuckle High
Rye Bourbon, available in cask strength
and a 90-proof single barrel expression,
Distiller's Reserve Bottled-in-Bond
Straight Rye Whiskey, and Distiller's
Reserve Bottled-in-Bond Straight
Bourbon Whiskey.
KO's gin is made in the New Western
style, minimizing the juniper essence
to maximize other botanicals. KO offers
Standard Strength, Barrel Finished (aged
in bourbon barrels), and 114-proof Navy
Strength.
12 SPIRITED VIRGINIA
Behind the Birth of KO Distilling
Karlson and O'Mara met as classmates
and cadet midshipmen at the United
States Merchant Marine Academy. After
graduation, they went their separate
ways but sailed in similar directions,
including in the United States Navy
Reserve and defense contracting, and
stayed in touch. After early retirements,
they decided to take on an entirely new
project: creating quality spirits. In a proud
grain-to-glass fashion, they decided to
use local, Virginia-grown grains.
KO Distilling started small in 2015,
with a 550-gallon copper pot/hybrid
still, but Karlson and O'Mara realized
that wasn't enough. Their initial vision
was small, Karlson admitted, " but as we
looked more and more into it and talked
to a lot of people in the industry, what
we found was we'd need to be bigger. "
In 2017, KO added a Vendome 30foot
continuous column still, which
has helped quadruple production. The
distillery operates two rickhouses to
store the barrels that age its spirits:
nearly 6,000 barrels are currently aging
to perfection.
After using their initials to name
the distillery, it was a short jump from
there to the branding for KO whiskies:
" We came up with the concept of Bare
Knuckle, " Karlson explained. " Bare
Knuckle, KO, knockout. "
To carry the comparison further, each
Bare Knuckle whiskey bottle features a
professional boxer from the early 1900s:
* American Whiskey (60% wheat,
30% rye and 10% malted barley - white
whiskey, aged for one day) highlights
Valentine Braun, who earned the
moniker " Knockout " (aka, " K.O. " or
" Kayo " ).
* Straight Wheat Whiskey (60% wheat,
30% rye and 10% malted barley, doubledistilled,
aged) features Jimmy Gardner,
an Irish welterweight boxer in America.
* High Rye Bourbon (75% corn, 21%
rye and 4% malted barley, doubledistilled,
aged for 6 years) features
International Boxing Hall of Famer Joe
" Old Master " Gans, the first Black world
boxing champion and world lightweight
champion from 1902 to 1908.
* Straight Bourbon Whiskey (70%
corn, 20% wheat and 10% malted barley,
double-distilled and aged) pays tribute
to " Texas Mamie " Donovan, U.S. women's
bantamweight champion boxer.
* Straight Rye Whiskey (100% rye,
double-distilled and aged) features
Jack Jackson, the first Black world
heavyweight champion boxer.
While the fighter imagery is an eyecatcher,
Karlson said, " Our brand is really
about people working skillfully with their
hands to create something wonderful.
That is what we strive to do every day at
KO. We want to pay tribute to all spirit
lovers out there who are doing the same. "
As the label on KO's wheat whiskey says,
" Daily, you face life's challenges with your
grit, guts and gumption. You get knocked
down, take a mandatory eight-count,
get up off the canvas and dare to fight
again. Yeah, the world's a tough place,
but you're made of sterner stuff. You've
got the persistence to endure, to triumph. "
On the bourbon honoring " Texas Mamie "
Donovan: " For ages, women, like
men, have battled for family to make a
living, for rights and just causes. Like the

Spirited Virginia Q4 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Spirited Virginia Q4 2022

Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - Cover1
Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - Cover2
Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - 1
Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - 2
Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - 3
Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - 4
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Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - Cover3
Spirited Virginia Q4 2022 - Cover4
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