September #VaSpiritsMonth: KO Distilling

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After two and a half years of planning, building, testing, and sampling, KO Distilling opened its doors to the public on September 12, 2015. They became the first distillery to produce spirits inside the borders of Manassas, VA, since Prohibition. Co-founded by college classmates at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, and long-time friends Bill Karlson and John O’Mara (the “K” and the “O,” respectively), this new craft distillery in historic Manassas is a must see – must taste destination.

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John O’Mara and Bill Karlson, co-founders of KO Distilling

At KO Distilling, we have two missions – to produce and sell locally made, craft spirits at reasonable prices and to provide a travel and tourism destination for visitors to have a great distillery experience” says KO CEO Bill Karlson. “In our first year, we’ve established ourselves with our clear spirits. Look for us to become even better with releases of our aged spirits starting this fall and again next year.

KO Distilling is the 19th operating distillery in Virginia (out of 42) and one of roughly 1,200-plus and growing craft distilleries in the United States. They make both high-quality clear (unaged) and brown (aged) distilled spirits, with products including gin, white whiskey, bourbon, rye whiskey. All four of the spirits they currently sell are certified as Virginia’s Finest products. For their small batch whiskeys, KO sources its grains (corn, wheat, rye and malted barley) from local Virginia farms.

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Considering that these guys have been open only a year, it’s impressive that they’ve already won so many accolades in spirits competitions. At the 2015 New York International Spirits Competition, KO won the title of “Virginia Moonshine Distillery of the Year”. Their (white) whiskey also went on to win a Silver Medal at the 2016 American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) Spirits Competition, and their Battle Standard 142 Barrel Finished Gin was awarded a Gold Medal in the 2016 New York International Wine & Spirits Competition… just to name a few!

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When visiting the distillery, guests are greeted with warm hospitality in KO’s beautiful oak and copper-themed visitors’ center, where you can taste a flight of KO’s spirits neat, or sip from their delicious cocktail menu. The cocktail menu is seasonal, but often includes the likes of the gin martini, G&T, whiskey ginger, and more! Since KO’s whiskeys and bourbon are aging on-site in new charred American Oak barrels, the cocktail menu features primarily clear spirits.

Bill and John are quite the history buffs. While relaxing in the KO visitors center, you’ll notice a featured painting near the cozy fireplace and comfortable leather couches that they had commissioned by George Mason graduate student Nathan Loda, titled “KO at Manassas Junction”. The painting is a representation of the Feast at Manassas Junction that took place on August 27, 1862, just days before the Battle of Second Manassas. In addition – for those that enjoy history, KO Distilling is just a few miles from the Manassas National Battlefield.

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KO Distilling also offers guided tours of their 12,000-square foot facility where you can see first-hand how their product is made. This state-of-the-art distilling plant includes an automated grain handling system, a 550-gallon mash tun, four 500-gallon fermentation tanks, and a 550-gallon copper pot/hybrid still made by Vendome Copper & Brassworks out of Louisville, KY. In early 2017, KO Distilling will receive a new Vendome Continuous Column Still and related equipment. The tour also includes a lap through KO’s barrel room where their bourbon, rye whiskey and other aging spirits are stored.

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On September 17th they will commemorate their first year in business with an all-day Anniversary Celebratory Open House. “With our Open House, we want to celebrate our first anniversary with our local business partners, our many followers, the community, and our family and friends,” explains Bill Karlson. The Anniversary Celebration will take place from noon to 6pm and will feature the best of local Manassas with KO Distillery tours and tastings; a craft beer garden with BadWolf Brewing Company, Heritage Brewing Company, and Tin Cannon Brewing Company products; food from Okra’s Cajun Creole restaurant; lawn games and family activities; and entertainment from two of Manassas’ favorite bands: Leon Rector and Harlen Simple. KO will also collect donations of new, unwrapped toys, which will be distributed to needy children through the local chapter of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation this coming holiday season.

The event is open to the public, with outdoor tents and seating. There is no charge to attend and the event is family friendly. Distillery tours, normally $6 per person, will also be offered at no charge. Food, beer, and spirit tastings will be available for purchase, and VIP packages featuring all three are available for less than $30 per person (a $10 savings). Guests should register in advance HERE to take advantage of early registration discounts and promotions

As part of celebrating September Virginia Spirits Month, the folks at KO Distilling are hosting over 30 FREE samplings of their product at ABC Stores around the Commonwealth. For a full listing of dates, times and locations, visit http://www.virginiaspirits.org/events/.


Product Currently Available from KO Distilling:

Virginia Moon White Whiskey has a refreshing taste due to its high wheat-based mash bill. Surprisingly smooth, it can be enjoyed neat, paired with mixers, or incorporated into craft cocktails. Raw ingredients include wheat, rye and malted barley, all from Virginia. Unlike many moonshines or corn whiskies, Virginia Moon does not have a harsh taste.

Battle Standard 142 Gin Navy Strength starts out from a grain neutral spirit base and is redistilled with eight botanicals to yield a delicious and unique tasting product that appeals to both gin lovers and non-gin drinkers alike. It works great for a gin and tonic, or a glass of gin on the rocks. Our Navy Strength Gin is perhaps best featured in a classic martini with a small spray of dry vermouth and olives. Classified as a New Western gin where the juniper berries do not overpower the more delicate botanicals, this gin is 114 Proof / 57% alcohol. This stronger proof allows even more of KO’s botanicals to be present and allows the juniper and flora flavors to stand out, however it is served.

Battle Standard 142 Gin Standard Strength starts out from a grain neutral spirit base and is redistilled with eight botanicals to yield a delicious and unique tasting product appealing to both gin lovers and nonlovers alike. This gin has a great juniper base with outstanding floral notes which makes it perfect for a gin and tonic with a slice of cucumber or lime, or in a classic martini with a small spray of dry vermouth and olives. Classified as a New Western gin where the juniper berries do not overpower the more delicate botanicals. 90 Proof / 45% alcohol.

Battle Standard 142 Gin Barrel Finished is similar to 142 Gin Barrel Strength, with the exception of being aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for five months. Paired with a great juniper base and outstanding floral notes, this process helps to develop a beautiful golden hue, a smoothness on the palate, and mild sweet notes reminiscent of honeysuckle. This gin is also classified as a New Western gin where the juniper berries do not overpower the more delicate botanicals. 90 Proof / 45% alcohol.


Product Coming Soon from KO Distilling:

Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey will be KO’s first brown spirit. It will be released in mid-November of this year. Bare Knuckle (a play on KO for knockout) is aged in new charred American Oak barrels for one year, and made with 60% wheat, 30% rye and 10% malted barley, all sourced from local farms in Virginia.

Small Batch Bourbon and Rye Whiskey (released in 2017) are currently aging on-site in charred barrels.

KO Distilling’s products are currently distributed in Virginia and Washington, DC, with distribution scheduled for Maryland and Delaware this fall. For a full list of Virginia ABC stores, restaurants, bars and hotels carrying KO products, click HERE.


For additional information on KO Distilling, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Photo credit: Jay Paul and KO Distilling