An Unconventional Path
The History of the J.J. Pfister Company
From humble beginnings as the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company to a state-of-the-art craft distillery, the J.J. Pfister story spans more than 170 years. The J.J. Pfister logo – a combination of a knitting machine and a copper still – marries our past, present, and future as we carry on the family tradition of excellence started by our family patriarch, J.J. Pfister, in the late 1800s. We invite you to explore the rich history of the generational Pfister family and learn more about the origin of the J.J. Pfister Distilling Company.
Born in Switzerland
J.J. Pfister is born in Switzerland and learns the knitting trade by working with his brother Henry in Zurich, Switzerland. Fascinated with stories in the Zurich newspapers of the American transcontinental railroad., J.J. begins to dream about America.
Coming to America
In October of 1869, at the age of 25, J.J. Pfister emigrates to the United States and takes the transcontinental railroad to San Francisco – where he plans to live and work.
Beginning the Business
J.J. Pfister launches his first business, a one man knitting company, in a a one-room factory that also served as his home. He begins with three Lamb hand machines and a small catalog of products, including stockings, mufflers, and wristlets. J.J. also served as his only salesman and would take his knitting goods under his arm and sell them on Market Street.
From Entrepreneur to Empire
With a focus on quality and excellence, J.J. Pfister creates a very successful knitting business and then builds the company’s first factory in San Francisco on Polk and Ivy Streets, eventually expanding to McCallister Street (current site of San Francisco City Hall). With new equipment, a full catalog of products and a team of employees, J.J. incorporates the business and officially launches the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company.
From Ashes to Triumph
The San Francisco earthquake hit in April, 1906 and tragically, the J.J. Pfister company factory and the family home are destroyed by the resulting fire, referred to as the “Great Fire” in company minutes. Not to be stopped, the consummate entrepreneur identifies a new property in Berkeley, CA for a new factory for the company. By the Fall of 1906, just seven months after the earthquake, the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company is back in business.
Entering the Exposition
As a coming out party, the City of San Francisco hosts the Panama Pacific Exposition at the Palace of Fine Arts to show the world that it had recovered from the Great Earthquake. The J.J. Pfister Knitting Company participates in the exposition and wins a medal of honor award. The medal is currently displayed in the J.J. Pfister Museum in our Visitors Center.
1916 - 1920
Growing the Catalog
The J.J. Pfister Knitting Company continues its growth and becomes known far and wide for its high-quality and customized knit goods. Now sold across the Western hemisphere, including Hawaii, Cuba, and Alaska, J.J. Pfister’s catalog included its signature garment – the knit shoulder-to-knee swimming suit – as well as car carriage robes, sweaters, knit caps, baby clothes, and athletic apparel for tennis, golf, football, and baseball. The company even made custom jerseys for the athletic teams at both Cal and Stanford.
The Legacy Lives On
In 1921, J.J. Pfister passes away at the age of 77. He is known as a very successful manufacturing pioneer and also a man of wonderful personality and high character, noted for his generosity and philanthropy. It was widely known that J.J. Pfister never turned a deaf ear to a worthy cause and was particularly fond of the YMCA. J.J. Pfister’s legacy lives on to this day.
A New Beginning
Great Grandson Kevin Keck
Kevin Keck, one of J.J. Pfister’s nine great grandchildren, is born in Berkeley, CA – very close to the J.J. Pfister Knitting Co. mill. Kevin becomes a successful physician and medical executive.
Great Great Grandson Brian Keck
Kevin and his wife Gail’s son Brian is born. J.J.’s great great grandson, Brian, earns graduate degrees in both Chemistry and Viticulture and Enology. He develops a great affinity for the alcohol beverage business, brewing beer at home, gaining a winemaking degree, and becoming a connoisseur of great spirit brands.
The Oregon Years
The Keck family moves to Oregon for 10 years where Kevin and Gail befriend Mike Noonan, an organic farmer based in the Klamath Basin. Years later, the family’s relationship with Mike becomes a key catalyst for the J.J. Pfister Distilling Company.
Entering the Craft Spirits Business
With Brian’s growing expertise in the wine industry, the Keck Family research the growing craft spirits industry and decide to open a family distillery. With Brian as the Master Distiller, the Distillery’s first products will be 100% organic using base ingredients from Mike Noonan’s organic farm in the Klamath Basin as well as organic farms in the local Sacramento Valley.
Naming the Distillery
Nearly 100 years after the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company, the Keck Family channel the family’s spirit of entrepreneurship and dedication to excellence – and proudly name their new distillery after their family patriarch and launch the J.J. Pfister Distilling Company.
Initial Product Launch
With Brian at the helm of production and Kevin as the President, the J.J. Pfister Distilling Company launches its first craft spirit, J.J. Pfister Organic Potato Vodka.
Our 2nd craft spirit
After its first year in business, the small family owned distillery introduces it’s 2nd spirit, Capitol Gin – a London Dry Style gin named for the family’s hometown of Sacramento, CA.
A New Spirit Is Born
In 2019, J.J. Pfister expands the portfolio with a unique spirit, Drakas, which is made with distilled honey.
The Portfolio Expands
By 2020, the Distillery successfully launches three new spirits and expands the portfolio to include Vodka, Gin, Rum, Brandy and Drakas.
Two Spirits Join The Family
In 2021, J.J. Pfister launches its first blended spirits – Bourbon and Rye Whiskey – to critical acclaim. In one short year, Bourbon becomes one of the Distillery’s leading spirits in distribution and sales.
An American Take on a Classic
In late 2021, J.J. Pfister launches its first American Single Malt Whiskey. Leveraging its growing expertise, the distilling team introduces its very own take on a classic spirit.