For my maternal grandmother, it was sweet tea; for her neighbor, beer. They lived next door to each other in Bowlegs, Oklahoma, and to escape the heat inside the house – whether from cooking or late-afternoon sun – they’d migrate to their porches and greet each other, “Hello, Neighbor.” Capitalized, because they never used names; Neighbor was the name.
As kids, we’d watch the neighbor drink beer and wonder if the taste warranted the lip smacking and deep sighs of contentment. My grandmother seldom drank, mostly because of her Pentecostal faith, but like many teetotalers, she could occasionally be lured by fruit-based wines; sand plum and peach or the like. We had to be content with our sodas or sweet tea, left to ponder the adult mystery of alcohol.
Porch drinking, which really should be a single word (porchdrinking), evolved naturally out of the habit of spending time on the porch in the world before air conditioning. In that sense, it’s not specifically tied to the South, nor is it a strictly Okie tradition, but its best iterations do happen in those places where a big porch is just part of the housing landscape. To the persnickety, a porch is the covered portion outside the front and perhaps back of the house, while a veranda extends to the sides. In the parlance of the South, though, that’s a wrap-around porch.
What’s the appeal of porchdrinking? Sharing a drink with friends and neighbors is part of building and sustaining a community within a larger town or city. Clayton Bahr, sales manager for Artisan Fine Wine & Spirits, has long hosted a rosé party on the porch of his home in the urban core as the weather turned warm. Because he’s a real Okie, some of those parties turned into thunderstorm watch parties, the rosé giving way to heavier reds and cocktails.
“We had a neighborhood porch crawl, too, until the pandemic,” Bahr says. “We’d walk in groups from home to home and entertain each other on the porch.”
It’s a tradition he hopes to see return post-COVID. While rosé is a favorite – “It’s hot outside and rosé is cold and delicious,” he explains – Bahr also recommends tequila-based cocktails. “They have these earthy, green-pepper notes that lend themselves to being outside in the heat.”
Bradford House is already a popular destination for brunch on its large wrap-around porch (veranda), and given the quality of the cocktails and wine list, it’ll be a hotspot for porchdrinking as well. Its Gin and Jam is a modified gin rickey sans sparkling water, with the addition of house-made jam. Currently, it’s black cherry, but any berry or stone fruit would go nicely with dry gin.
The Copper Lady is an excellent vodka-based cocktail – typically ideal for warm weather porchdrinking – with ginger beer, lemon, thyme and orange syrup. It’s light, refreshing, and just complex enough that you won’t want to chug it.
Gulpability, which also ought to be a word, is a good measure of what constitutes appropriate porchdrinking wine. Bahr recommends rosé for that very reason, and some chillable reds. We’re agreed that frizzante-style wines also work, but Champagne, Cava and Prosecco aren’t the best choices. The acid gives them a weight that requires slower drinking, and no one wants warm bubbles in their glass. Choose wisely, partake safely and raise a toast to more sociable drinking in the days ahead.