HGBA Spotlight of the Month: Bill Karlson

Bill Karlson
KO Distilling
10381 Central Park Dr, Suite 105, Manassas / 571.292.1115 / bill@kodistilling.com / kodistilling.com

When and why did you decide to start your own company?

KO Distilling was formed on May 31, 2013 by Bill Karlson (the “K”) and John O’Mara (the “O”), who were classmates at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Lovers of gin and bourbon, respectively, John and I wanted to launch our third careers and do something rewarding.  KO opened to the public on September 12, 2015. 

How does your business serve the local community?  

KO employs 16 local residents to make and sell our spirits. We are a great travel/tourism destination. We provide guided tours, tastings, bottle sales, and special events at our distillery. Since April, KO has been mass-producing hand sanitizer to help with the COVID-19 crisis. To date, KO has donated over $20,000 worth of hand sanitizer to the local community. We have plenty if any local business needs some.

Please share one of the greatest moments you’ve experienced in your current profession.

By far, the best moment is seeing a customer smiling when he/she tastes our spirits for the first time. 

Tell us about your experience with the HGBA. How has it supported you in your local business? 

After my wife Theresa and I moved to Piedmont a year ago, I joined the HGBA. I have enjoyed the few meetings I’ve attended. HGBA supports KO and other local businesses by providing a network from which all members can benefit. 

What are the top three business tips and tricks can you offer other professionals? 

(1) location, location, location; (2) be prepared to play the long-game, which is definitely true in the whiskey business as it takes years to age spirits, and (3) never sacrifice quality over quantity.

Are you from this area? If not, what brought you here and what do you like about our town?  

My wife Theresa and I are from Laurel and Bowie, MD, respectively. KO Distilling brought us here. We love the Piedmont community.  Personally, I love a 10-mile commute, which I never had before.

What is your favorite season in this area, and why?  

Spring. As a lifelong Orioles fan, I relish the start of baseball season, although COVID has made spring less enjoyable this year for all of us.

What are some hobbies you enjoy?  

Golf. I also just bought a new bike from Haymarket Bicycles and look forward to riding it throughout the community. 

 What is your favorite restaurant?  

My wife Theresa and I are big fans of Jimbo’s Grill.  

What is your favorite local high school sports team?  

I’ll have to go with Battlefield. Have not yet had a chance to go to any games yet though.

Are you involved with any nonprofits? If so, which one(s) and why?

I’m a Board Member of the Prince William County Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Distillers Association, and Greater Prince William Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) – Children’s Intervention Services (CIS).  KO Distilling also supports numerous local non-profits because we want to give something back, but also make people aware of what we do in the community.

What was your first job, or your most interesting job prior to your current profession?  

My first job out of college was working on a deep-sea tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas, and California. My most interesting job though was working for Stanley, Inc. for 26 years. Watching Stanley grow from a handful of employees to a publicly traded one with 5,000 employees was quite a ride.

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