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.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2015