By Nicole Bayne
At the class of 1982’s United States Merchant Marine Academy’s 30th reunion party, Bill Karlson and John O’Mara enjoyed a Maker’s Mark.
“I think that was the first bourbon John and I shared together and we’ve enjoyed many a bourbon since,” says Karlson.
A few months after that first shared bourbon, Karlson asked O’Mara, a homebrewer since the 1980s, to delve with him into the distilling industry.
Three years later, permits are finalized, construction is wrapping up and their 12,000-square-foot distillery, KO Distilling in Manassas, is producing liquors. This weekend, the two retirees move from bourbon drinkers to bourbon makers.
There are, however, federal laws to abide by if you want to call your product straight bourbon whiskey. “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon,” says Karlson.
“Most people think bourbon has to be produced in Kentucky,” Karlson says. “The requirement is that it is produced in America and aged for at least two years in charred white American oak barrels. We will have at least 700 of these barrels of aging bourbon.”
After years absorbing the charred oak, whiskey develops its signature brown color. KO’s bourbons won’t be ready until 2021, but the team prepared other booze ready to drink upon its debut: Battle Standard 142 Gin, both in 90 proof and 114 proof, aka Navy Strength.
Virginia Moon, a white whiskey that O’Mara says lacks the smoky depth of flavor gained during aging and is therefore harsher, will also be available. “You’ll really be able to taste that rye,” he says, though it’s predominately made from wheat with additional malted barley.
Eventually, KO Distilling’s full arsenal will include bourbon, rye whiskey, white whiskey, vodka, gin and possibly rum. Renwood Farms Inc. in Charles City provides the distillery’s grains.
The Manassas facility plays into the club room mentality with large leather couches and a fireplace, plus a bottling and labeling room and a tasting area.
10381 Central Park Drive, Manassas