How Jackie Summers overcame setbacks to build a multi-million dollar liqueur business

Abu Mubarik April 18, 2023
Jackie Summers. Photo credit: Sorel Liqueur via the Entrepreneur

Jackie Summers is the founder of Jack From Brooklyn, Inc. and its widely acclaimed Sorel Liqueur. With his determination and great feats, there is no doubt this entrepreneur has made a name for himself as an acclaimed spirit entrepreneur.  

He became the first licensed black distiller in the U.S. post-Prohibition in 2021. Following the launch of his hibiscus-based liqueur that same year, he ventured into an industry that wasn’t set up for him to succeed. Despite the odds, he became successful, and the favorite of cocktail enthusiasts.

“I started working the market, and when I went to accounts, no one believed I was the brand owner,” Summers told the Entrepreneur. “To this day, most places I go (and I’ve been to thousands) have never met a Black liquor brand owner before.”

Soon after Summers achieved success in the liquor industry, his business was entangled in a web of challenges; his distillery in Red Hook was hit by Hurricane Sandy. As though that was not enough, his insurance did not cover the damages.

However, he managed to rebuild his business by 2013. He had momentum on his side until the brand halted once again, and this time around, it took him several years to build.

The comeback of his cocktail, he says, dates back to thousands of years ago in Africa, where “the red drink” made from the hibiscus flower made its way to the Caribbean through the slave trade. And today, it is the basis for Sorel — originated, according to the Entrepreneur.

The making of the red drink was passed down to him through oral tradition from generations.

“These are people who had everything stolen from them,” Summers says. “They were taken from their home; families were destroyed. They were given new names, and forced to practice a different religion. They had every part of their identities destroyed. But somehow, they preserved this cultural identifier.”

Summers’ family carried the tradition from Barbados to Harlem, New York, in 1920. His grandfather, who was a chef, taught his mother how to make sorrel, and she in turn taught her son the recipe.

Growing up as a child in the Caribbean, Summers recalls enjoying the drink during the annual Caribbean Day Parade.

“I remember being this child,” Summers says, “and I didn’t care about all of the other stuff — just beef patties and roti and curried goat, all this delicious food, and washing it down with this red drink, non-alcoholic because I was a kid.”

For two years, he made his own version of the red wine to enjoy with family and friends. However, a cancer scare in 2010 changed the trajectory of his life.

His doctors found a tumor inside his spine, which was about the size of a golf ball. He was told he had a 95% chance of death and a 50% chance of paralysis.

After thinking through what his true priorities were, he decided to be around interesting people and have great conversations with great food and beverages, and monetize it, the entrepreneur shared.

Unable to figure out what he was going to pay for his lifestyle, he decided to launch a liquor brand, and made the sorrel drink itself. He is currently in the process of trademarking the brand ‘Sorel.’

He launched Sorel in 2013 and brought its distribution up to 22 states in the US. His product was listed by The New York Times as one of its holiday gift guide that year. However, the business collapsed.

Thanks to Uncle Nearest Venture Fund, he was able to secure a $2 million investment in Sorel and returned to the shelves in October 2021. “In 2022, Sorel entered international spirit competitions and placed gold or better 37 times,” according to the Entrepreneur.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 18, 2023


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