Last week at the Slow Food NYC Event, “Spirits of New York”, I was lucky enough to catch up with Jack Summers, the creator and distiller of the hibiscus liqueur, Sorel. His concoction nods to the Caribbean island’s celebratory beverage drank by natives for hundreds of years. Sorel’s spicy complexity and multifaceted flavors make it a versatile mixer or a thirst-quenching refreshment served best as a slushy, over ice, or warm in a mug. I was fascinated to know how Jack got his start to create such an interesting libation, so I asked. Here’s what he had to say.
T.M.: Where did the idea for Sorel came from?
J.F.B.: Traditionally, in the Caribbean islands, kids on their way home from school pick hibiscus flowers. When they get home they make hibiscus iced tea and drink it while they do their homework. Then, when the children go to sleep, the adults put rum in the tea and drink it to relax at the end of the day.
T.M.: Does Sorel hail from a particular region of the Caribbean?
J.F.B.: Every island does it differently, and includes their particular local horticulture. If you go to Jamaica, it’s hibiscus with allspice, cardamon, and orange peel. Trinidad uses ginger and nutmeg. Barbados, where my grandparents came from, uses cloves. My version has cloves on top, cinnamon in the middle for warmth, ginger to mask the heat of the alcohol, hibiscus which adds a floral, acidic note, and then lastly just a wee note of nutmeg. I wanted to get a version that pulled the sugar back, and do what all the islands do best, spice it up.
T.M.: Were you the first to market this sort of liqueur?
J.F.B.: This drink has been around for hundreds of years but no one thought to bottle it before me. I was the first person to figure out how to make it shelf stable, and I did it in my very own kitchen.
T.M.: Why is Sorel great for the mixologist?
J.F.B.: It’s not a flavor people are used to drinking. Sorel is aromatic, spicy, savory, sweet, layered, and complex. One sip of it tells you there is clove on the front, then hibiscus, and finishes with cinnamon and nutmeg. To the mixologist it is the 65th crayon in the box. If you mix it with vodka, gin, tequila, or rum you will get something no one else makes, something completely new.
Check out Jack From Brooklyn’s Sorel website for more information and check out the variety of different recipes that include the liqueur and pick yourself up a bottle to sip on a hot or cold day.
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