Copper still at KO Distilling

The copper still at KO Distilling in Manassas.

Bourbon, whiskey, gin and rum – all made in Manassas?

Local and state leaders helped usher in a first for the city last week with a groundbreaking ceremony for KO Distilling, scheduled to open this spring.

“This is a good day for Manassas,” Mayor Hal Parrish said at the Jan. 29 ceremony. “Applause is appropriate.”

Distillery owners held the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at their future site, tucked away in an industrial business center on Godwin Drive.

The distillery will be the first to open in Manassas, and one of just a few in Northern Virginia.

“We’re here today not only to welcome a new business to Manassas, but to welcome a new industry to the region,” Parrish said.

The mayor said Manassas has been on the “forefront of emerging trends” in business in recent years. In 2012, Bad Wolf Brewing was the first craft brewery to open in the city, followed by Heritage Brewing in 2013. He said the city is excited to welcome another “trendsetting business.”

KO Distilling owners Bill Karlson and John O’Mara describe their business as a “artisan distillery” and plan to make and sell bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, gin, vodka and rum. The business will also feature a visitors’ center and will offer tours, tastings, merchandise sales and space for special events.

Karlson said he got the idea for the distillery a couple of years ago and got his business partner, O’Mara, on board.

Since then, Karlson and O’Mara have been researching distilleries and learning about their new business venture. They moved into their building on Central Park Drive in Manassas last summer and, in recent months, have been working to install their distillery equipment and get the business up and running.

“It’s taken this long but we’re almost there,” Karlson said.

The renovated warehouse space features a large copper still, a grain bin that can hold up to 6,000 pounds of corn, a large mash tank, fermenters and other equipment to automate the production process and store the product. The distillery will be able to produce about four or five barrels of liquor a week, O’Mara said.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore attended the groundbreaking and said businesses such as distilleries and breweries bring Virginia’s agriculture industry to areas throughout the state.

“The product that goes into this is an agricultural commodity,” he said. “Businesses like this are a boon to agriculture.”

KO Distilling will be the 19th craft distillery to open in Virginia, Haymore said. Locally, a handful of distilleries operate in Loudoun County, but KO Distilling will be the first in the Prince William County area.

“You are on the forefront of this,” Haymore said. “You are revolutionaries.”

KO Distilling is at 10381 Central Park Drive, Suite 105, in Manassas. It plans to open in mid-May. For more information, visit the business’s Facebook page at


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