Bill Karlson is the CEO of Manassas-based KO Distilling. He’s the “K”, while his former U.S. Merchant Marine Academy classmate, John O’Mara, is the “O”. Bill and John started KO Distilling in May of 2013 and opened to the public in September 2015. KO Distilling is a craft distillery that makes and sells distilled spirits, in particular Bare Knuckle whiskeys (bourbon, rye, and wheat) and Battle Standard 142 gins. KO employs 16 local residents and supports various non-profits in the community. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, KO pivoted to mass-produce and sell Bare Knuckle Hand Sanitizer, made with ethanol produced at the distillery.
Prior to KO Distilling, Bill was an executive at Stanley, Inc., where he worked for 26 years. Stanley was a Virginia-based government contracting firm. Bill served on the Board of that publicly traded company. While at Stanley, Bill served as a Selected Reservist in the U.S. Navy Reserves and was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant Commander. Before Stanley, Bill worked on a deep-sea tugboat as a licensed U.S. Coast Guard merchant mariner.
Bill received his Bachelor’s degree in Marine Engineering and Marine Transportation at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY. He received his Master’s in Software Systems Engineering from George Mason University.
Bill and his wife Theresa (Mills), originally from Bowie and Laurel, MD, respectively, live in the Piedmont community of Haymarket. Bill has one son, Adam, who attends Towson University. Theresa has a son Jake who is married and lives in Glen Burnie, MD. Theresa’s eldest son, Gene, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012. Gene and Jake were both in the Marine Corps. Bill and Theresa look forward to becoming first-time grandparents this fall.
Bill is currently a Board member with the Prince William County Chamber of Commerce and with the Virginia Distillers Association (VDA). He looks forward to serving on the CASA-CIS Board.