A series on actually good nonalcoholic drinks to serve abstaining friends or make for yourself.
I'm really boring in January. Oh, sure, in the Fall I can invent fun drinks, but come Drynuary, I hibernate with club soda and lime and my Bible. That all changed when I discovered sorrel. No, the other one. If you recall, last year, I discovered Sorel, a delicious hibiscus liqueur. Little did I know that there’s also a native Caribbean concoction known as sorrel drink, popular in places like Jamaica and Grenada.
Brought to my attention by a close family friend from Grenada—the Spice Island!—sorrel drink is traditionally served during the holidays, with a similar flavor profile to the Sorel liqueur (no coincidence there!): cinnamon and spice and everything nice. It’s made from sorrel flowers, which I didn’t realize was just another name for hibiscus in the Caribbean, steeped with a variety of spices. The sorrel drink is non-alcoholic, can be served hot or cold, and can be tarted up with ginger ale or rum to make it even more festive. Its versatility seems to know no bounds: our friend's mother enjoys adding wine to it.
I was lucky enough to have our friend bring me fresh sorrel leaves from Grenada recently, so I decided to make some sorrel drink for Drynuary. Using an amalgam of recipes I found online and the guidance of my sorrel source, here’s what I came up with.
Grenadian Sorrel Drink
• About 1/2 lb. fresh sorrel flowers, rinsed and dried
• About 1 dozen cloves, give or take
• 6 thick slices fresh ginger
• 2 sticks cinnamon
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1 tsp. nutmeg
Yields about 64 oz.
Now, fresh sorrel flowers may not be the easiest thing to find if you don't have a trusty source. I'm led to believe that you can occasionally (and seasonally) find it at select NYC greenmarkets. Don't confuse the flowers for sorrel leaves, which are more like bitter greens. If you can't find fresh ones, feel free to go with dried flowers, using roughly the same amount. You may have to boil and steep the dried ones a bit longer.
I'm told that Korean groceries in Brooklyn often carry packaged dried sorrel, as do Carribean, African or Latin markets (where it might be labeled flor de Jamaica. You can also find dried varieties online, commonly sold for hibiscus tea.
While most recipes I found online called for dried sorrel, I confirmed that it's cool to use fresh flowers, as long as they were rinsed in cold water. Whew, because they were lovely, I wanted to treat them with respect, and I didn't want to delay my experimentation by attempting to dry them. Be careful, though: the pigment tends to bleed very easily, and you are advised to avoid plastic containers because of the threat of staining. So maybe wear an apron.
I covered the flowers with about 8 cups of cold water in a large pot (about 1/2 of a Le Creuset 5 1/2 quart dutch oven), cranked up a burner to high heat, and I added the rest of the spices and ingredients, bringing the whole thing to a boil. Stirring once or twice, I let it boil for about 4 minutes, then removed from heat and covered. The aroma was all winter and warmth and cinnamon and clove, vaguely tea-ish. It steeped for about 3 hours, but you are advised that you could let it steep overnight (if you can wait that long). I couldn’t.
I strained out the leaves and spices, and the result was a ruby red, opaque liquid, like red grapefruit juice. By itself, it’s tart with a bit of a bitter aftertaste: you are advised to sweeten to taste before serving. About 1/2 tsp. of cane sugar helped, and for my first (dry) adventure I ended up serving it over ice with about 6 oz. of sparkling water and a wedge of lemon. It was festive, refreshing and delicious. If just a little late for the holidays.
I’ve got almost 64 oz. of it left, so I plan to experiment with ginger ale, additional sweeteners like simple syrup, and (if it holds until the end of Drynuary, which I doubt), rum. Which is why I need get my mitts on some more sorrel: I want to toy with additional recommended ingredients like orange peel and bay leaves. You know: idle hands, the Devil's work, etc.
A version of this recipe first appeared on Two Minutes of Shame.
Related: Two Sorel Cocktail Recipes
John Ore hopes that this recipe will help you associate Grenada with more than just a mediocre Clint Eastwood movie.