Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sorel and Brenne: an Odd and Compelling Synchronicity

Sorel & Brenne together.
Photo: courtesy of Jackie Summers
I'm not really a cocktail guy.  The concoctions I spend time and energy optimizing are pure whisky plays:  the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.  I want to taste the whisky.  Indeed, the only cocktail I've ever blogged here was a banana infused bourbon Old Fashioned.  But there are plenty of other things to do with whisky. For me, it's often about pairing.  Sorel and Brenne is far simpler a drink than even the basic Old Fashioned.  It isn't really a cocktail at all.  It's a pairing.  2/3 Brenne to 1/3 Sorel.  And it's genius.  I first had it at a party celebrating Brenne's first anniversary as a brand last autumn at the West Village bar "Bell Book And Candle".  Allison Patel, Brenne's creator, had invited friends and people who helped get Brenne off the ground to have a birthday cake and some drinks.  I was honored to be on her list.  It was a stellar party.  There I met Jackie Summers, the creator of Sorel. I already had a bottle of Sorel and had been following @jackfrombkln on Twitter.  I was excited to meet him because I knew how much Allison liked him, but I wasn't prepared for how heartfelt, genuine, warm and sweet he is.   He's not just a nice guy, as it turns out, but someone aggresively on the path of wisdom about life (read on).  Someone mentioned the pairing of Brenne and Sorel and I tried it and played with it a bit and I really enjoyed it.  I had been looking for an application for that bottle of Sorel.

From Right: Sorel, Brenne, and the pairing, which is called "The Last Call".
Brenne: (I'm drinking the ethereal and apricot-banana floral cask 257 today - and it makes sense to pay attention to cask number as the variations are fascinating) is delicate, estery fruity floral pretty thing - soft and easy with silky mouth filling lignans from new French oak.  It comes off as sweet, but not from actual sugars, but solely the cues of esters and lignans.  It's so creamy.   Sorel (which Jackie Summers, it's creator, pronounces "sew-REHL" like it was a girl's name; instead of like the tart herb "sorrel" which most people tend to do while reading it) is a lightly alcoholic tincture of hibiscus flowers and a mess of baking spices (clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon).  I say "tincture" because it doesn't drink like a liqueur: it isn't too sweet and there's no syrupy sugar texture here.  Sorel is low proof (15%) but high flavor: bringing its fascinatingly intense, almost medicinal mix of lushly perfumed dark red fruit with aspects of tart sweet rubarb and red currants with those spices nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves to a light and smooth texture with a bit of ginger heat.   Over a few sips that hibiscus floral intensity spice combo builds up and become intense.  This is made to mix.

"Barrel No. 257" today.

The "Last Call"

But when these two mix at the magic proportion of 2 parts Brenne (or perhaps a smidgen more) to 1 part Sorel and allowed to rest and integrate for 15 minutes or so something magic happens.  The color is a russet scarlet mauve.  The nose becomes malt whisky loaded with cinnamon red hots, baskets of roses, and jammy red vinous scents, like a sherry bomb Scotch but with a fruity floral roobios zing while smoking a clove bidi.

The palate of the combo emphasizes the odd and unexpected planes of their union: floral and sweet without being sugared.  The sweetness is a mass of heavy massed tropical floral notes and tons of zing (stealth ginger).  The spices - the cloves, mace, and cinnamon - ride around in a big car made of malt whisky stone fruits made zingy - like raspberry.  Tasting it you'd never guess there were only two ingredients.  It likes some water - or even better - some ice.  This has joined my regular rotation.  It puts a vinous overlay over the whisky in a way that reminds me of a Manhattan, but with a totally new and very Caribbean flavor set.  This pairing has come to named "The Last Call".  It's a drink with a future.  It also likes a few drops of orange water or citrus bitters - but my favorite is neat, 2/3 plus a drop of Brenne and slightly less than 1/3 Sorel.  Just magic.

By the way, visually, something cloudy happens to the spirits in combination.  Although both are totally clear on their own, mottled flavor elements become visibly flocked out.  But adding water disperses them again.

The combination develops ephemeral clouds of
flocculating flavor compounds until water is added. 

The synergy here is pretty cool - but it's actually a much bigger coincidence than it appears.   These are both spirits whose story is hard to tell without telling the stories of their compelling creators.

Jackie Summers
Jackie Summers (Sorel) and Allison Patel (Brenne) are good friends.  They live in the same town and have become stars at the same time for being independent entrepreneurs introducing their own liquor brands.  Both are beautiful and charismatic people who light up a room.  Both are thinkers and independent bloggers before introducing their brands.  The fact that they are on this parallel course and are buddies is cool.  But it's no reason for their drinks to mix well together.  I mean, what are the odds?  Jackie was adapting a traditional Caribbean herbal cure into a liqueur.  Allison had discovered an indigenous French malt whisky in search of bottling strategy, a brand, market, and leader.  Nothing in these two histories suggests they should work (except the fact that they both seem to mix pretty well generally).

Allison Patel
Apparently the pairing came about organically the first time Allison Patel and Jackie Summers met - at a restaurant called Krescendo in Brooklyn.  The two spirits clicked together with such a clear and harmonious lock that it must have felt like fate. The spirits worked together and the creators became instant fast friends.  They are on parallel courses in life in a number of ways.  Allison has been a ballet and modern dancer professionally, a fitness consultant, a marketer of jewelry, a brand ambassador for whisky, a whisky blogger, an importer / exporter of American craft whisky, and now, finally, the creator of the Brenne brand.  Allison's whisky blog:
Allison's whisky:

Pic courtesy of Allison Patel
Jackie has been on a voyage of personal self examination and growth and civic philosophy.  He blogs with brutal and affecting honesty about becoming a man on the Tumblr F*CKING IN BROOKLYN He posts about race and philosophy on the fascinating and important web site The Good Men Project.  His body of work there is challenging, intelligent, bravely self reckoning, and generally really excellent.  I highly recommend you read it:
As a great example, this recent piece is a searing memoir of social injustice, institutionalized racism in the judicial and penal system, and the feeling of gut check immediate danger at Riker's.  Just fantastic writing on every level:
And, of course, he does this little Sorel thing in his spare time - actually making the stuff and also making it rain.
Today, I asked Jackie if he had a picture of he and Allison for this post.  He produced the one below and then added:  "Allison is my sister in alcohol".  Try a Brenne and Sorel.  It's like having everything hip about New York in a glass.  While you're at it, think up a name for this simple pairing.

FYI - there is a similar, but more involved Manhattan version of Sorel with Brenne.  It's called The Brooklyn Blossom:
  • 2.5oz Brenne French Single Malt Whisky
  • 1.5oz Sorel
  • 1oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 1 Hibuscus blossom

Good buddies that mix well together.
Picture courtesy of Jackie Summers
(All the liquors tasted in this piece are my own bottles.  Sorel purchased at Dry Dock in Red Hook from Brandy Rounds.  Brenne purchased at Park Avenue Liquors from Marlon Paltoo).


  1. Great article, with really interesting views, I really want to try this for myself now, It's inspiring to hear the success stories of people who have gone out there and turned their dreams into reality. I really enjoyed reading Allison and Jackie's blog too.

    1. Who knows when the whisky fairy is coming Stewart (or Kristy)? It might bring this cocktail to you. Who knows?

  2. It was Kirsty :) I have just had a chance to look now, was a fascinating article. Living the dream, something we all should inspire to do. We love whisky fairies :) Have a great New Year when it comes, Stewart.