Sorel: the 65th Crayon

Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.

-Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption

That’s probably one of my favorite movies and movie quotes.  And for Jack Summers, never were truer words spoken, the day his doctor said, “We think you have an Ependymoma”. Surviving not only the cancer scare (benign, thankfully), but also the surgery that could’ve paralyzed him, Jack was sent down a whole new path.  One that has led him to the delicious business of making Sorel, a hibiscus liqueur that comes from his Caribbean roots.

Jack From Brooklyn

Jack From Brooklyn

After a couple of decades of marching to the corporate drum, Jack faced the Reaper – and survived. You can read his full account here. One of the things that struck me was when he was struggling to come to terms with his looming date with the surgeon: he didn’t give in to a case of, “Why me?” . In the early dawn hours on a beach in Cancun, tequila in hand, Jack had a chat with Death – and this is what he was told:  ““Truthfully Jack, I don’t understand why this has you so shaken up. This is not the first time I’ve come for you. It’s just the first time you’re paying attention.”

Surgery successfully behind him, it was time to put corporate America in the rearview, too, and follow his passion. He’d been perfecting the recipe for Sorel in his kitchen during that same time (I’d agree that an office job could drive one to drink make booze, just sayin’).  Hibiscus is notoriously difficult to work with, and the spices Jackie chose were also dominant players: Brazilian clove, Indonesian cassia and nutmeg, Nigerian ginger. Trial and error, blending the ingredients so they danced together (and not like a West Side story thing), getting the acidic hibiscus to play nice all took time. Fortunately, after almost 2 decades of experimenting, it wasn’t long before the final recipe for Sorel was ready.

SORELHandsDuring a series of Skype chats I got to know, at least a bit, the man behind the brand.  Don’t get me wrong – Sorel is fantastic, and if I’d not met Jack, I’d still think it was tasty. But there’s something extra that comes from talking with Jack, hearing his observations on life, business and being happy with what you do, that added an extra dimension to my first taste of Sorel.

Did I mention that his new distillery, housed in a 165 year old building in Red Hook, was hit by Hurricane Sandy? But six feet of water wasn’t enough to stop a man raised on such mottos as, “May you live forever and may you never die”, (his mom’s favorite toast) and “We don’t waste alcohol in this house – there are sober children in Africa”. Don’t get me wrong – Sandy was a disaster of immense proportion, whose aftereffects are still being felt.  But if Death couldn’t take Jack, what makes you think a little excess water could?

I asked Jack what the strangest way someone had used Sorel.  A retail manager sent him an email about a customer that he introduced to Sorel, by way of a bet…that the customer lost.  The challenge was that if the manager could pair Sorel with any bottle of the customer’s choosing, the customer would buy both bottles.  Game on!  The customer chose….Laphroaig. If you’re not familiar with them, here’s a hint: Laphroaig is currently running a customer opinion campaign, asking for descriptions of their Scotch.  One customer describes it as a, “big, peaty slap in the face”. The manager was up to the challenge – and the customer went home happy, with a new favorite.

No doubt, Jack’s had more than a few challenges the last few years (yes, this didn’t happen over many years, only about 4). Here’s what he had to say on that score: “Talent counts, luck counts, but resolve will get you through the tough spots. And there will be tough spots daily. Figure out what the insurmountable task of the day is, then surmount the living hell out of it.”

Words to live by, no matter if you’re a guy making tasty liquor in Red Hook, a girl making coffee in Seattle, or a spirits writer in San Diego. sorel

About Jeanne Runkle

Jeanne Runkle currently lives in San Diego, and is a certified bartender and craft liquor expert. Her specialty is the brown stuff, whether it's bourbon, rye or good old American whiskey. She can sometimes be found stalking the aisles of a liquor store near you, answering your random whiskey questions.

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