I remember it so clearly. I was at Estadio, Logan Circle’s Spanish hot spot, eyeing a group of diners guzzling from a glass object that looked like a cross between a carafe and a watering can. They were passing it around the table, taking turns trying to drink from it, and wine was dripping from their chins. Everyone was doubled over in laughter.
I had to be a part of it. I signaled for our server. What is that table drinking? We want in!
Turns out the group was enjoying a porron, a communal drinking vessel native to Spain. The top is narrow, like a wine bottle’s, and can be corked; the bottom widens, like a decanter’s, and is fitted with a conical spout.
An order was placed and the porron brought to our table, along with Estadio’s wine director, Max Kuller, to give us a quick tutorial. Turn the spout toward your lips, tip the porron up with your head back, and allow the liquid inside to stream into your mouth, taking special care to adhere to the one and only rule of porrons: Never let it touch your lips. (It’s meant to be shared, after all.) Bonus points for imbibers who can extend their arm to create the longest stream.
I was ready, albeit nervous. I followed Kuller’s advice to a T. Within seconds, wine had soaked my shirt. (Note to self: Wear black when drinking from porrons.) Kuller intervened. “The trick is to tip the porron back quickly and with no inhibition. As soon as you get self-conscious, that’s when you spill it all over yourself,” he cautioned before pitching the porron back himself, extending his arm at full length to pour from several feet. Showoff.
My friends went next. Half the fun lies in watching each person attempt to stay dry. One reserved friend barely lifted the porron before splashing wine across his face. Another immediately planted her lips around the spout. Come on! Next came my friend from Colombia, who snagged the porron and stretched her arm out as far as it would go, flawlessly flowing the contents into her mouth before slamming it back on the table, all without spilling a drop — as if there were any other option. Not to be outdone, my guy tried to replicate that, successfully at first, though his turn ended with a shot of cava to the eye.
By the end, we had enticed another table to order a porron; they’re highly contagious. Unsurprisingly, nights spent passing porrons have since become a tradition with my friends and me. Round and round we go, giving everyone a taste until it’s gone.
It doesn’t take long; what’s inside porrons (about 24 ounces’ worth) can be as delicious as the vessels are convivial, and at Estadio, you’ll find more than just wine. Newbies should keep it simple: a Catalan Pilsener or sparkling wine with lemon soda and orange bitters. Or try a red-wine-based pour mixed with Coke and bitters. (A word to the wise: The darker the contents, the darker the stain, hence the Estadio menu’s caution to drink at your own risk.) If you’re feeling adventurous — and if Kuller, or bar manager Adam Bernbach, are working and available — request an off-menu porron, often with fresh herbs and unusual ingredients such as Campari and seasonal beers.
Fortunately, Estadio isn’t the only spot in the District partaking in the porron tradition. You can find porrons, of course, at Jose Andres’s Jaleo, where servers fill them with a concoction of Spanish beer, house-made lemonade and orange bitters. At Boqueria, porrons aren’t on the menu but can be requested for wine service. For those who prefer to fill them in the privacy of their own home, Union Market’s Salt & Sundry boutique sells the vessels, which are handmade in Spain of recycled glass, as does Cork Market in Logan Circle.
Light bulb! What better way to spice up a backyard barbecue? To that end, Amanda McClements, Salt & Sundry’s owner, and Kuller have shared their favorite recipes for concoctions they like to drink out of porrons. “They just need acidity and effervescence, usually some sort of soda in conjunction with beer or wine,” advises Kuller. “But the best part of using porrons at home is that their communal nature allows for spontaneity. Make a group decision about what to drink, have fun mixing things together and trying something new.”
Parham is a food and travel writer based in Washington. She can be reached through her Web site, www.kateparham.com.