It’s no easy feat to be a show-stopper on a crowded liquor store shelf, be it boutique or big box. But then again, there really isn’t anything else like Jack from Brooklyn’s Sorel liqueur. Or Jack Summers, for that matter. If it takes a vibrant, spirited man to make a vibrant spirit, then Summers has found a way to bottle his own energy and sunny outlook on life, which in the middle of a NY winter is a pretty great thing to have on hand.
If you’re wondering if you’ve missed his Sorel on shelves, don’t worry – you couldn’t if you tried. Its bright, fuchsia hue and pretty French apothecary-style bottle stands out like a shocking-pink umbrella in a sea of black on a gray, rainy day. And if you get to meet Summers at the Good Spirits event on Thursday, the 21st of February (and we highly encourage you to do so), you’ll get it – he’s kind of like that, too. “The response to this has been incredible and so exciting,” he says. “I can’t keep it on shelves!” Post Superstorm Sandy, that has been a bit of an issue for Summers as he rebuilds his distillery, which was severely damaged from the rising tides in waterfront Red Hook. Summers, however, is a man who smiles at seemingly impossible notions – which was kind of the way his Sorel got started.
A white-collar Wall Street guy, he was engaged in the thick of New York’s financial hustle-bustle, until a diagnosis of cancer gave him a very unplanned shock to the system. He quit his job, went through treatment, and re-assessed his life, walking away with remission and a renewed sense of what was important in his life – family and his Brooklyn community being a big part of it. And that got him thinking about his grandmother’s recipe for sorel.
Generations of Caribbean immigrants had been making the pink-hued drink which takes its name from the sorrel plant, and Summers’ family were no exception. His grandparents emigrated to the states in the 1920s from Barbados, and brought with them their own version made on holidays and special
occasions. Jack grew up in Brooklyn with it ever on hand, and realized that unless you were part of that West Indian community, you might be missing out. And so Jack from Brooklyn’s beautiful Sorel was born.
The color comes from steeping hibiscus leaves, which bloom on the sorrel plant, and fermenting them with organic grain alcohol. But while the color is a feast for the eyes, smelling it is just as much of a sensory explosion. The first thing you’ll notice is an intense note of fresh, feisty cinnamon, and then comes the rest in a complex little parade of aromas and tastes: Brazilian clove, Nigerian ginger and nutmeg, Indonesian cassia, and that hella-gorgeous hibiscus, which Summers sources from Morocco. But there’s more: notes of star anise, fresh fennel, orange peel, and vanilla bean, to name a few. Sipping it on its own is intense, but Summers manages to hit the right stride – it’s sweet and bright, but not cloying in the least. Right now, you might be inclined to make it into a toddy-like tipple, with hot water, fresh-squeezed citrus, and perhaps a little spiced rum, but hitting the Jack from Brooklyn site affords more than two dozen other ideas for Sorel-centric mixables. We like all those suggestions, but its also nice to take a good, delicious cue from Summers seize-the-day style: pop open a bottle sparkling wine, pour it over some Sorel in a flute, and clink with the people you care about.