Lifelong friends Bill Karlson and John O’Mara are the “K” and the “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 on a journey to create craft spirits with local ingredients, high quality production methods, and to share their passion with their local community.
Since incorporating KO Distilling in 2013 and breaking ground in 2015, Bill and John have turned KO Distilling into a state-of-the-art production facility and local tourist attraction in Manassas, VA. After their initial offering of unaged 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 1200 craft distilleries in the US and one of only 50 in Virginia. The distillery attracts visitors seeking locally crafted spirits, and offers tastings and tours of the distillery.
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 spirit: 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 spirit: Battle Standard 142 Navy Strength Dirty Martini
Joining KO Distilling in 2015, Peter is a long time resident of Northern Virginia; growing up in Chantilly and living in Manassas. Peter attended Virginia Tech where he honed his leadership skills as a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, and the Virginia Tech Management Society. After receiving his B.S. in Business Management, Peter spent 5 years working in retail management before bringing his leadership and customer service talents to KO.
Peter’s favorite spirit: Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey Sour
Born in Washington DC, Scott earned his BBA in Marketing from Howard University and an MBA in Finance from University of the District of Columbia. He has over 20 years of Sales Marketing experience working in the fields of professional sports and medical sales. Scott brings a dynamic vision and a passion for quality spirits to KO Distilling.
Scott’s favorite spirit: Two finger pour of Bare Knuckle Straight Bourbon on the Rocks
Joining KO Distilling in 2017, Gretchen has a B.S. in Entrepreneurship from The University of Scranton. At Scranton, Gretchen served as the Head Resident Assistant, overseeing on campus housing and Resident Life operations gaining knowledge in leadership as well as marketing skills. She sat as the chair of the Campus Life and Dining Committee acquiring a background in food and hospitality sales. Gretchen hails from Baltimore, Maryland and is excited to share her business savvy and bubbly personality north of Virginia to help grow KO Distilling.
Gretchen’s favorite spirit: Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey Mule