June 13, 2024

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By Hannah Kliger
/ CBS New York
NEW YORK –  August is National Black Business Month and one Brooklyn man used his second chance at life to highlight his Caribbean ancestry. 
Jackie Summers typically begins his story from the hardest moment of his life, 12 years ago. 
“The doctor found a tumor the size of a golf ball inside my spine. He said, you’re probably going to die, and if you live you might be paralyzed,” Summers said. 
He survived the surgery, but says the experience adjusted his perspective.
Soon after, his story became a tale of a new journey. While wondering what he wanted to do with his second chance, he realized his dream is to be able to day-drink. 
“I want to be around cool people, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, having a great conversation over great food and alcohol,” he told CBS2’s Hannah Kliger. “I thought to myself, I know what I’ll do, I’ll launch a liquor brand!”
It took 623 failed recipes in his kitchen, he says, but in 2012, his brand, “Jack from Brooklyn,” was born. Operating out of a micro-distillery in Red Hook, he focused his efforts on perfecting his signature drink, “Sorel,” inspired by a traditional Caribbean recipe made with Hibiscus flowers and other botanicals. 
“The Africans knew Hibiscus was a powerful medicinal plant,” Summers explained. “The trans-Atlantic trade starts and bodies and spices are stolen from the continent of Africa and transported in the bottom of ships to the Caribbean.”
His grandparents, immigrants from the Caribbean, passed down their love for this drink. He became the first Black person in post-Prohibition America to hold a license to make liquor. However, he couldn’t keep up with demand, and in 2016, he closed his Brooklyn operation. 
For five years, he never lost sight of his dream. Last year, he joined forces with Laird & Company, which also happens to be America’s oldest distiller, and moved production to Eatontown, New Jersey. With their capabilities and his recipe, they’re able to put out tens of thousands of bottles a month. 
He now has a team of specialists, including food chemist Dr. Hoby Wedler. Wedler’s role is to ensure quality and consistently improve the formula. And he’s got a unique ability to do that.
“I was born totally blind so I’ve never experienced the world visually, with my eyes, and I feel like my blindness is a tremendous advantage. I would never want my eyesight back because I can see flavor, literally when I taste something,” Wedler said. 
The end product is a deep ruby-colored liquid that captures centuries of history. Summers and his team say the drink is finally getting the attention it deserves.
“So far this year in 2022, Sorel has won gold or better in 27 different international competitions,” Summers proudly says. “It has very quickly become the most awarded liquor in the market, hands down, bar none.”
His story is one that begins with tragedy, but ends in success. By the end of this year, Summers estimates that his product will be in 20 states, with an expansion to the rest of the country in 2023. 
Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Email Hannah by CLICKING HERE.
First published on August 18, 2022 / 5:14 PM
© 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
©2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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