Lifelong friends Bill Karlson and John O’Mara are the K & O in KO Distilling. They met as classmates and cadet midshipmen at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) and have been friends ever since. After graduation, Bill and John went their separate ways but followed similar paths. Both initially sailed in the merchant marine and served in the United States Navy Reserve. Later, both had successful careers in the defense contracting industry.
Upon retiring early, the question became, “what next?” Neither one satisfied with sitting idle, in 2013 Bill and John set off to create craft spirits with local ingredients, high-quality production methods, and a passion that they were excited to share with their local community.
Since breaking ground in 2015, Bill and John have turned KO Distilling into a state-of-the-art production facility and local attraction in Manassas, VA. After their initial offering of unaged craft whiskey and gins in 2015, Bill and John realized their goal of producing their first aged spirit, Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey, in November 2016.
KO is proud to be one of more than 1200 craft distilleries in the US and one of only 50 in Virginia. The distillery attracts visitors seeking locally crafted spirits. We hope to see you soon!
Originally from Bowie, MD, Bill graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY with degrees in both Marine Transportation and Marine Engineering. He sailed briefly in the maritime industry then began a 26-year career with Stanley, Inc., a northern VA government contracting firm. Bill served as a Stanley Senior Vice President and as a member of the publicly traded company’s Board of Directors. He received his Masters degree from George Mason University in Software Systems Engineering.
Bill’s favorite KO Cocktail: Bare Knuckle Straight Bourbon on the Rocks
John grew up in Woodbridge, VA and has been a Manassas resident for 17 years. He has lived in Prince William County since 1967 and is a 1978 graduate of Gar-Field High School. John then attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, where he received his degree in Marine Engineering. Following graduation, he sailed on his U.S. Coast Guard Third Assistant Engineer merchant mariner’s license for 2 years. John worked in the defense contracting industry for 28 years. John is a 2013 graduate of the Moonshine University Distilling course in Louisville, KY.
John’s favorite KO Cocktail: Battle Standard 142 Navy Strength Dirty Martini
Devin’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle Wheat Whiskey Single Barrel
Bennett’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle Wheat Whiskey Single Barrel
Dana’s favorite KO Spirit: Distiller’s Reserve Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Peter’s favorite KO Spirit: Distiller’s Reserve Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Luke’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle Rye Whiskey Cask Strength
Wayne’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle Bourbon Single Barrel
Jeff’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle High Rye Bourbon Cask Strength
Lynn’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle Bourbon Cask Strength
Aimee’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle Rye Whiskey Single Barrel
Greg’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle Rye Whiskey Cask Strength
Dakota’s favorite KO Spirit: Distiller’s Reserve Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Josh’s favorite KO Spirit: Bare Knuckle High Rye Bourbon Cask Strength