We had the good fortune of connecting with Jackie Summers and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jackie, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
In 2012 I had a cancer scare. My doctor found a tumor inside my spine the size of a golf ball. I was informed I had a 95% chance of death, and a 50% chance of paralysis if I lived, but as the tumor was already in my lymphatic system, if it was malignant, I had less than six months to live, I was advised to “get my affairs in order..”
I lived. But the experience permanently adjusted my perspective.
I call my cancer scare “The Gift” because it forced me to reevaluate my priorities. I had 25 years invested in corporate life, most of it unhappy and underpaid, despite working at the Director level. Surviving the experience became the impetus to launch a distillery, where I would perfect the first ever shelf-stable version of the 500 year-old recipe that became Sorel Liqueur.
What should our readers know about your business?
When I got my DSP (Distilled Spirits Plant) permit in February of 2012, I was the only Black person in the entire country with a license to make liquor. From all available records. I’m the first Black legal Black distiller, post-prohibition.
The systemic barriers that need to be overcome to achieve this were significant. I am differently wired, in that I don’t know what I can’t do. I also believe focus is a super-power. From the moment I decided to turn this beverage I made in my kitchen into a market-ready product, until it was on shelves, was a total of 14 months. That’s perfecting the recipe (623 failures) attaining the licensing, raising the necessary capital, establishing the supply chain, and designing the packaging.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
A good day with friends contains art, conversation, and delicious food and libations. I would start at the Metropolitan Museum, where I’ve been a member for decades. A midday stroll through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens is a great way to connect with nature in NYC. And for dinner, the outstanding traditional Indian cuisine served at Dhamaka on Delancey St.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are two women I greatly admire and from whose presence helps guide my path: Summer Lee, my Vice President, and Fawn Weaver, founder and CEO of Uncle Nearest Premium Whisky.
Summer deserves a shout-out as she’s been with me for the entire tumultuous ride. Her integrity and loyalty are beyond question; she may be the most ethical human working in the entire spirits industry. On top of that, she’s a fierce sales-person with an in-depth knowledge of the inner-workings of brand building. There’s no decision I make without consulting her.
And I have to give a shout to the indomitable Fawn Weaver, who started the Uncle Nearest Fund for the specific purpose of building brands like mine. Fawn is a visionary, a true force majeure. She’s also one of the most genuine humans I’ve ever met; a CEO who leads by example.