Sorrel is a sweet, gingery, wine-hued Jamaican drink that's always been a part of my Christmas tradition, offered as an option alongside eggnog and rum punch at holiday parties and tree trimmings. Its seasonal popularity is due to the time of year its primary ingredient, the blossoms of the hibiscus plant, were originally harvested and cultivated in the Caribbean. These days, sorrel is available for purchase—as processed or whole dried blossoms, or even steeped and bottled—at all times of the year. But for me, the viscous, tart drink doesn’t feel right outside of the holiday season.
Sorrel is the kind of centerpiece that people gather around the moment it leaves the fridge, cracking over ice as it’s poured, its merits debated by family members. Though its strong ginger flavor should shine, sorrel can easily be seasoned to taste—I've found that the steeping process, moreso than the spices used to flavor it, is the most important element. It's not the kind of thing you rush; it should steep at least overnight, or for up to two or three days, before it’s finished with sugar and, optionally, rum. If you need sorrel in a rush, though, you can start it in the morning and strain it in the evening. You can then reuse the soaked sorrel leaves to brew another, slower batch by bringing it and fresh water back to a boil and letting it steep for a longer time the second time around (that said, don’t steep the sorrel more than twice before discarding it).
Sorrel on its own is acidic and tart. In this recipe, grated ginger cuts through the sharpness (I like it best when it burns a little), cloves and pimento (also known as allspice) give it a gentle warmth, and sugar provides balance. Some like it sweeter, others more tart, but if you have a strong, rich base, it can be tweaked to your taste by dialing the amount of simple syrup up or down. Steeping the brew for a longer period of time will also enhance its tartness.
The preferred and traditional way to enjoy sorrel is with Wray and Nephew overproof white rum. We always keep half a batch reserved without alcohol for those who don’t want to imbibe, or leave the bottle within reach of the pitcher so you can stir in your preferred amount of booze (remember: a little bit goes a long way). Whether your sorrel is spiked or virgin, though, you'll still want to clink and stir your ice in the glass so it dilutes a bit as you drink.
Why It Works
- A short boil hydrates the sorrel, kicking off the infusion.
- A long, cold steep ensures full flavor and color extraction.
- Simple syrup makes it easy to sweeten to taste, with no need to wait for sugar to dissolve.
- Yield:Makes about 3 quarts
- Active time: 25 minutes
- Total time:10 hours
- 5 1/4 ounces (150g; about 3 cups) dried sorrel (hibiscus), rinsed with cold water in a colander or strainer
- 3/4 pound (350g) peel-on fresh ginger, washed and grated (see note)
- 10 whole cloves
- 10 allspice berries, roughly crushed with the side of a knife
- 1 pound 1 1/2 ounces (495g; about 2 1/2 cups) sugar
In a 4- or 5-quart pot or Dutch oven, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Add sorrel, grated ginger, cloves, and crushed allspice, and boil until the sorrel begins to plump and swell, about 8 minutes.
Remove from heat and let stand until cooled, then continue to steep in an airtight vessel in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer or through cheesecloth into a large pitcher, pressing on solids to express as much liquid as possible. If needed, strain again until it is clear of any ginger remnants. Discard solids.
In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil with the sugar. Continue to cook, stirring, until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove simple syrup from heat.
Stir simple syrup into the strained sorrel, 1/2 cup at a time, until desired sweetness level is reached.
Chill until ready to drink. Serve over ice.