If you see Sorel liqueur on a shelf — all bright fuchsia in its slender, elegant bottle — you’d be forgiven if you thought it was something new. It’s not. Distiller and founder Jackie “Jack from Brooklyn” Summers launched it officially over 10 year ago in 2012, going through iterations of recipes before he found the just-right spicy-floral mix of African hibiscus, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and clove macerated in a wheat-based neutral spirit. But the concoction itself, he’ll readily tell you, is hundreds of years old, born of the Caribbean and the West African spice trade.
“Sorel is a model rendition of a centuries-old beverage,” says Summers. “It comes from the Caribbean and has roots in Africa where it was used for thousands of years for medicine purposes.” It was also something Summer’s grew up on, often on hand in his household and that of relatives and friends.
And then, years later as an adult, it dawned on him one day: Wouldn’t it be cool on a multitude of levels if he would bring it to the rest of the world?
It was meaningful to him not just because of familial nostalgia — although, certainly, that was not an unmighty tug on him — but because of the imprint an official, federally recognized creation of it would make.
“[The story of Sorel] matters because it’s a cultural identifier across the entire Afro-Caribbean diaspora. An almost epigenetic memory of the Red Drink, preserved by enslaved Africans,” he says. “There were no recipes because the people making it weren’t allowed to read or write.”
It’s been a long journey for the clear-eyed distiller to make this bottled beauty happen — he was the first African-American person since American Prohibition to gain a license from the TTB to distill; he nearly lost it all when Hurricane Sandy ruined the space where he was making it in Red Hook, Brooklyn, not to mention a not insignificant dose of inherent racism in the industry and from potential investors, which nearly quashed his dreams.
Summers is a tough cookie with a big heart, though — and thank goodness, because it kept him going and believing and pushing. It’s pretty exciting to see his lovely Sorel not only back on top and grabbing awards both nationally and internationally (the most of 2022 — huzzah!), but sold globally, too — even out here on eastern Long Island, at hot spots like American Beech, Black Llama and Brix and Rye in Greenport, the Corner Bar in Sag Harbor and Amagansett Wines and Spirits.
Pick yourself up a bottle and raise a glass to Summers by making one of his faves, the J’ackquiri, a daiquiri riff created by barman Elijah Servance III, whose rich, sunset-vibrant color and citrusy, rummy, floral aroma will easily become your summer fave — and a not a bad choice to toast to true freedom and equality for all humans, as hope (and sorel) spring eternal. Cheers, Jackie.
- 3/4 oz Sorel liqueur
- 1 1/2 oz Ten to One white rum
- 1/2 oz Clairin Communal Rum
- 1/2 oz demerara simple syrup
- 3/4` oz fresh lime juice
- 1 edible orchid (or other edible flower of choice)