An Unconventional Path
The History of the J.J. Pfister Company
From humble beginnings to a brand new distillery, the J.J. Pfister story spans more than 170 years. Our icon, a combination of a knitting machine and a copper still, marries our past, present, and future as we carry on the tradition of excellence J.J. started all the way back in the late 1800s. Below, explore our history and learn more about the origins of our dynamic brand.
Starting in Switzerland
J.J. Pfister is born in Switzerland and learns the knitting trade by working with his brother Henry in Vevey and Zurich, Switzerland. He is fascinated with stories in the Zurich newspapers of the coming American transcontinental railroad. J.J.’s dreams of coming to America begin.
Coming to America
In October of 1869, the 25 year old 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 begins his business in a one-room factory that also served as his home. He starts with 3 Lamb hand machines where he knitted stockings, mufflers, and wristlets. He would take his goods under his arm and sell them on Market Street and surrounding areas.
Moving to McCallister Street
The knitting business grows, and J.J. Pfister builds a factory on Polk and Ivy Streets, eventually expanding to McCallister Street. He adds knitting machines and workers. On this site now sits San Francisco City Hall. The business is incorporated and called J. J. Pfister Knitting Company. With J.J.’s eye for quality and excellence, the knitting company becomes a very successful venture.
From Ashes to Triumph
Tragically, the factory and J.J. Pfister’s home are destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake and fire, referred to as the “great fire” in company minutes. The earthquake occurred in April, 1906, and by June, J.J. Pfister had identified a property on 8th and Parker in Berkeley on which he would build his new factory. Come that fall, J.J. Pfister’s company is back in operation.
Entering the Exposition
The J.J. Pfister Knitting Company participates in the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The exposition was an international event to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal the year before, and it showed the world that San Francisco had recovered from the earthquake. The company wins an honor medal award that the family still has to this day and is displayed in the museum at the distillery. The Palace of Fine Arts is a remaining structure from that exposition.
1916 - 1920
Growing the Catalog
The company continues to be known for high-quality and customized knit goods that are sold throughout the western hemisphere, including Hawaii, Cuba, and Alaska. The signature garment was the knit shoulder to knee swimming suit, but they also created car carriage robes, sweaters, knit caps, baby clothes, and athletic apparel for tennis, golf, football, and baseball. J.J. made athletic jerseys for the teams from both Cal and Stanford.
The Legacy Lives On
J.J. Pfister passes away. He is described as a man of wonderful personality and high character. He was noted for his philanthropy, particularly to the YMCA. It was widely known that J.J. Pfister never turned a deaf ear to a worthy cause. He was a pioneer of manufacturing in the late 19th century and his legacy lives on to this day.
A New Beginning
Great grandson Kevin Keck
Kevin Keck, one of J.J. Pfister’s 9 great grandchildren, is born in Berkeley, CA, not too far from the old Pfister 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, goes on to earn 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 and Kevin and Gail become good friends with Mike Noonan, an organic farmer based in the Klamath Basin. This turns out to be a key relationship in the eventual formation of the J.J. Pfister Distilling Company.
Entering the Craft Spirits Business
The Keck family is attracted by what is happening in the craft spirits world and decides to enter the business. They make plans to open their own distillery with Brian as Master Distiller. All product will be organic with base ingredients coming from Mike Noonan’s farm.
Naming the Distillery
The Keck family proudly chooses to call their business the J.J. Pfister Distilling Company, in honor of their family patriarch and his spirit of entrepreneurship and dedication to excellence.
Initial Product Launch
J. J. Pfister launches its initial product, J.J. Pfister’s Organic Potato Vodka.
London Dry Gin, Citrus Forward Gin, and Rum are being made. Bourbon and Rye Whisky are being laid down.