Sorel Is the Unique Liqueur You'll Want to Sip All Summer Long (and Beyond)
A modern twist on a Caribbean classic, Sorel Liqueur has become a buzzy drink of late but founder Jackie Summers wants you to know that his creation offers more than a rich drinking experience. His Sorel is a contemporary liqueur that draws on the popular Caribbean sorrel or hibiscus drink and its centuries of history. While the deep red sorrel is not alcoholic, it is often spiked with rum or other spirits and is usually sweetened. Summers has revolutionized the spirit industry by creating a sorrel-based liqueur that not only dials back the amount of sugar normally used to sweeten the tart drink, but is also shelf stable. Here he explains the background to Sorel and why you'll want to sip it this summer and beyond.
Summers says the story of Sorel liqueur is indelibly intertwined and interwoven with the history of sorrel, also known as hibiscus flowers, which spans over 500 years and is a story of joy and perseverance: "It's 500 years ago that the trans-Atlantic trade starts, and that is really how the tradition of making this drink from these (hibiscus) flowers moves from West Africa into the islands of the Antilles," he says. "The knowledge of what the flower can do is transported alongside the people who know how to use it." The benefits of sorrel consumption are as sound as the preparation of the drink is varied. "Every island ends up doing a slightly different version based on what spices were being traded in their ports," explains Summers. Another reason for the many flavor distinctions is a more sobering one. "The people who were making it weren't allowed to write down recipes, 'cause they weren't allowed to read or write," says Summers.
Summers first discovered the "sour tea" sorrel as a child. He recalls being at the Caribbean Day Parade in Brooklyn, seeing "Caribbeans out from every island" and eating everything from beef patty to roti to jerk chicken, "all washed this all down with non-alcoholic sorrel."
After building a successful career in business, Summers experienced a serious cancer scare and turned to the beloved sorrel drink of his childhood to help him regain his good health. The drink has been said to improve cardiovascular and respiratory health, improve circulation and more, and has been used by the African collective for centuries to help cure illness. In the process, Summers found purpose. "I left my career to start this liquor brand and tell a story of my ancestry through the brand."
What Is Sorel Liqueur?
Sorel is made with African hibiscus (which Summers says is just as tart and tasty as Caribbean hibiscus, but punchier) and spiced with Brazilian clove (for brightness), cinnamon (for warmth), nutmeg (for a woody finish), and Nigerian ginger (to mask the heat of the alcohol). It has a spicy, floral bouquet and a gorgeous garnet color but that's not all; Summers' sorrel-based liqueur dramatically reduces the amount of sugar normally used to sweeten the tart drink and it also lasts a long time. "Once we remove the pectins, everything that is left… is indefinitely shelf-stable," he says. "You can open it up and come back in a year and it's the same." By distilling Sorel at Laird & Company, America's oldest distillery, Summers has realized a dream and notes that he made history in the process by becoming the first African-American in the U.S. to be given a coveted license to make liquor.
How to Drink Sorel
Sorel, like the people and the history that inspired it, is so versatile that it can be sipped solo, hot or on ice, and can also be combined with any other spirit of your choice, mixed in cocktails, and more.
For Summers, however, it's not so much how you drink Sorel that matters, but what you get from the drinking experience. "I feel a great sense of responsibility to put this beverage out into the world, knowing the entire African-Caribbean diaspora is looking at me," he says. And each bottle goes out with a handwritten note of his family toast, "May You Live Forever," that has been passed down from Summers' grandmother to his mother to him. He hopes it will remind people of family and celebration.