Making Spirits Bright: A Look Inside the J.J. Pfister Distilling Company
The perfect drink always starts with the perfect pour of spirits. And the spirits are pretty perfect when they come from J.J. Pfister Distilling Company located right here in Sacramento!
J.J. Pfister Distilling Company is Sacramento’s only organic “farm-to-glass” distillery. To be an organic distiller, the products produced in the distillery have to be made from all organic ingredients. Also, there can be no pesticides or any other non-organic chemicals used in the distilling process.
Andy and I were invited to a media event at the distillery last month and treated to a spread of hearty appetizers, special cocktails, spirits tasting, and a behind the scenes look at how grain and potatoes turn into some of our favorite adult beverages!
Since this is a food blog, let’s take a look at the tasty vittles the people at J.J. Pfister provided for us, BEFORE I tell you about the distillery and its history. There was a gorgeous fruit and vegetable tray with hummus, gluten free crackers, potstickers, a charcuterie tray, a cheese platter, buffalo chicken skewers (a personal favorite), meatballs, caprese salad skewers, shrimp cocktail in phyllo cups, and even a few things for those with a sweet tooth. No thank you, I’ll have more vodka, please.
OK, enough with the food. Now let’s talk about what we really came for: the spirits! To best showcase the Capitol Gin made at J.J. Pfister Distilling Company, we were served a special cocktail called “Gin-gle Bells” The gin was combined with pomegranate honey, lemon juice, and apple cider, and packed a punch with its spice and herbaceousness. If you’re interested in trying it, the recipe is below.
• 2 cups raw honey
• 1 cup water
• 6 bags rooibos chai tea
.75 cups pomegranate molasses
Make pomegranate-rooibos honey. Combine honey and water in a saucepan on medium heat until incorporated. Add tea bags and let steep for 1 hour. Remove tea bags, add pomegranate molasses, and stir. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Combine gin, pomegranate-rooibos honey, lemon, and cider in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain mixture into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with apple slices and freshly grated cinnamon.
Though I love a good cocktail, I preferred the gin straight. It was interesting to taste and smell the ingredients: juniper, orris root, angelica, cardamom, cubeb berries, coriander, lemongrass, fennel seed, and lavender (aka botanicals, above) used to make the gin.
After sampling the food and drinks, we were taken on a brief tour of the production facility. While on the tour, we learned that the gin is actually made from an ultra-premium rye vodka base and the botanicals are later added in.
The machine below processes potatoes. Did you know it takes 15 pounds of potatoes to produce just one fifth of J.J. Pfister’s Potato Vodka? The potatoes are, of course, organic, and grown in Klamath Basin in Oregon.
The pipe-organ looking apparatus above is called a “Rectifying Column Still”. It has partitions that set up chambers within the still. As the still is heated from the bottom by pumping steam into the bottom and letting it rise, the mash enters at the top and sinks toward the bottom. As the liquid encounters the steam, the heat vaporizes the mash and forces the alcohol up the still. Each time the vapors reach another partition, they get rid of more and more water and grain solids, and eventually become ethanol. The ethanol comes out of the top of the still and transferred into a condenser to become liquid again. Sound confusing? Luckily, we don’t have to make it, we can just drink it!
The name J.J. Pfister comes from owner Kevin Keck’s great-grandfather. J.J. Pfister was born in Switzerland in 1844 and learned the knitting trade with his brother Henry. By 1876, J.J. had moved to the United States and started a business in a one-room factory (in which he also lived) knitting stockings, mufflers, and wristlets to sell on Market Street in San Francisco. This tiny operation eventually grew, and by 1916 the company was making their signature garment, the knit shoulder to knee swimsuit. J.J Pfister also made sweaters, knit caps, baby clothes and athletic apparel. If you tour the facility (which I highly recommend you do), you will see several pieces of clothing they produced.
Fast forward to 2015. By this time, Kevin Keck is a retired physician and his son Brian has earned graduate degrees in both Chemistry and Viticulture and Enology. The men decide to open their own distillery with Brian as Master Distiller. Their new business needs a name and the Kecks decide on J.J. Pfister Distilling Company in honor of their family patriarch, and to carry on his legacy and dedication to excellence.
Very soon, J.J. Pfister Distilling Company will launch other spirits, such as rum, bourbon, and rye whisky. For now though, they have their vodka and gin for sale in their tasting room. If you are still looking for Christmas gifts, they have holiday packaged bottles ready to go, and a portion of sales goes to both the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge and the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex in their missions to restore and preserve habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. You can also find their spirits for sale at Total Wine & More and Nugget Markets. Click here to see a full list of locations, including restaurants, where J.J. Pfister spirits are available.
J.J. Pfister Distilling Company is located at 9819 Business Park Drive in Sacramento, and is open for touring and tasting on Fridays from 3-6pm and on Saturdays from 12-6pm. To schedule private events or tastings please call (916) 672-9662.