Here's the Local Spirit You Should Be Sipping This Spring

Jack from Brooklyn
Jack from Brooklyn

As the weather warms, it's high time to shift our drinking habits accordingly. Why not take a cue from the perpetually sun-showered folks of the West Indies? Residents of these tropical isles have long relied on a local concoction called sorrel to soothe and refresh. The hibiscus-infused spiced tea is tart and mildly herbaceous. Importing this traditional recipe to Red Hook, and updating it as an adult beverage, is Brooklyn native Jackie Summers. His hand-crafted Sorel Artisanal Liqueur is the only product of its kind currently marketed in the States.

"Sorel is based on a recipe that's been around for four centuries," Summers says. "I am the first person to create a shelf-stable alcoholic version and make it available commercially."

Referring to himself as a "rectifier," Summers is upfront about his process, which requires neither distillation, fermentation, nor maturation. "I purchase 192-proof organic neutral wheat grain alcohol — certified kosher — and blend it with a proprietary mix of botanicals. This allows for speedy production and a high degree of consistency."

The resulting elixir, bottled at 30 proof, is best enjoyed on the rocks on a warm day, with a splash of ginger beer. To really let the subtle spices shine, I poured myself a neat glass and was able to discern notes of nutmeg and cinnamon — courtesy of the cassia Summers sources from Indonesia.

Although he offers a distinctively worldly product, Summers is brimming with local pride. "Red Hook is the best of small-town living inside a big city," he says. "It's a small fishing village, where everyone knows their neighbors. We watch each other's backs, and embrace the belief that 'all ships rise with the tide.' "

Jack's ship is rising fast, after inking a deal for national distribution earlier this month. His success is a tale of resilience — he's a cancer survivor whose business was wiped out by Sandy several years later. "Given a second chance, I decided to devote my life to my love of day-drinking," which he contends is the best kind of drinking. "Sorel is the vehicle by which I get to meet cool people every day and engage in interesting conversation over a drink."

You can join that conversation with your own 750mL bottle, available across the city at a typical retail cost of $30.

Check out our video with Summers, too.

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