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Dukes Up! Bare Knuckle Whiskey Is Here!

For those of you not familiar with whiskey, allow me to give you a very brief description of the subject. Whiskeys are oak-aged spirits usually made from rye, barley, wheat and corn. The production of whiskey can vary depending on the distiller, style made and country of origin. However, the process, which can include malting, mashing, fermentation and distillation are for the most part basically the same. Grains are converted from starch to sugar, fermentation begins and then distillation takes place followed by maturation.

Here are a few examples of whiskeys:

To be labeled “Scotch Whisky”, it must be distilled and aged in oak casks in Scotland for a minimum of three years.

Malt Whiskey is made with only malted barley and distillation must take place in copper pots.

Irish Whiskey, as a rule, is made from a combination of malted and un-malted barley, in addition to other grains. Pot stills and/or column stills are used for distillation.

In North America, whiskey can be produced anywhere, but there are strict rules for Kentucky and Tennessee.

Bourbon is a whiskey that is made with a mixture of grains. By law, it must contain at least 51% corn. Although Bourbon is produced throughout the USA, the majority is produced and aged in Kentucky.

Tennessee whiskey can only be produced in Tennessee. What sets this whiskey apart from Bourbon is that the new make spirit is filtered through sugar maple charcoal prior to oak aging.

So, on that note, let’s take a trip to Manassas, Virginia where some mighty fine craft whiskey is being produced at KO Distilling. The “K” is for Bill Karlson and the “O” is for John O’Mara, life long friends who met as classmates at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. Although they went their separate ways after graduation, they always stayed in touch. They each had successful careers in the defense contracting industry and both took early retirement. But rather than idling away the hours “fishing”, Bill and John joined forces in 2013 to make spirits using local ingredients with the intent of embracing the local community with their new adventure. KO Distilling was incorporated in 2013 and construction began in 2015 to create a state-of-the-art production facility and local tourist attraction. After initially offering un-aged whiskey and gins, Bill and John produced their first aged spirit in November 2016 called Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey.

Bill is CEO & Marketing/Sales Director and John is President and Head Distiller. John graduated from the Moonshine University of Distilling, Louisville, Kentucky in 2013.

Bill Karlson; Photo courtesy of KO Distilling

John O'Mara; Photo courtesy of KO Distilling

I received a sampling of Bare Knuckle whiskeys and was immediately captivated by the labels depicting famous boxers on the front and the interesting text on the back. 

Bare Knuckle American Wheat Whiskey is made with 60% wheat, 30% rye and 10% malted barley sourced from local Virginia farms. It is double distilled and aged for 19 months (as shown on the bottle) in charred new American White Oak barrels from Kentucky. 

The color is copper with aromas of caramel, vanilla and spice. It has an invitingly warm and rich mouthfeel with lingering notes of butterscotch, spice, toasted wheat and hints of honey. Simply delicious!
Alcohol: 45% (90 Proof)
SRP:  $35.99

The boxer on the front of the bottle is Irish-American fighter, Jimmy Gardner.

Quote on the back label:  “Daily, you face life’s challenges with your grit, guts and gumption. You get knocked down, take a mandatory eight-count, get up off the canvas and dare to fight again. Yeah, the world’s a tough place, but you’re made of sterner stuff. You’ve got the persistence to endure, to triumph”.

Bare Knuckle American Rye Whiskey is made with 100% rye, sourced from local Virginia farms. It is double distilled and aged for 20 months (as shown on the bottle) in charred new American White Oak barrels from Kentucky.

It is a slightly darker copper color than the Wheat whiskey. Heady aromas of toasty oak, floral and spice segue onto the palate with fennel, vanilla, baking spice and a smooth lingering finish. The sweetness is rounded out by oak notes. 
Alcohol:  45% (90 Proof)
SRP:  $45.99

The boxer on the front label is African-American world heavyweight champion, Jack G. Johnson.

Quote on the back label:  “Early Bare Knuckle fighters traveled American byways plying their trade, gaining fame and entertaining the masses. They pushed the boundaries of life. Those who did well, reaped the rewards. KO Distilling is all about pushing those boundaries to fight, to win. As one of KO’s founder’s surname invokes “ Opima Spolia” (The Riches of the Spoils), so does our rye".

Bare Knuckle Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made with 70% corn, 20% wheat and 10% malted barley all sourced from local Virginia farms. It is double distilled and aged for 24 months (as shown on the bottle) in charred new American White Oak barrels from Kentucky.

The color is between amber and copper with aromas of sweet corn, caramel and savory smoke. This whiskey packs some heat, but the sweet corn, nutmeg, toffee, spice and oak notes soften the edges. The finish is long and enjoyable.
Alcohol: 45% (90 Proof)
SRP:  $35.99

The boxer on the front label is early 20th-century U.S. champion, Mary “Texas Mamie” Donovan.

Quote on the back label:  “For ages, women, like men, have battled for family to make a living, for rights and just causes. Like the American female fighter from the early 1900s who is on our front label, some have ventured into the ring to apply their pugilistic skills – to fight, to win, to advance and prevail. For all those women who work hard every day, we salute you”.

KO definitely makes a statement inside and outside the bottle.  I must admit that I am not a big fan of whiskey. But after what I sampled today, my palate is quite pleased!



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