Here's How To Drink Vermouth Like A Spaniard

One of our favorite ways to pass an afternoon in Spain is taking a page from the locals and gathering with friends or family (preferably on a terraza), nibbling on small bites, and sipping vermut.

To be clear, yes, we are talking vermouth; as in the fortified wine steeped in herbs and botanicals. In the States, we mostly think of vermouth as a key ingredient in cocktail classics like a Martini. We tend to think of vermouth’s role as one part of a list of ingredients but in Spain it's a way of life! If you order vermouth – vermut – in Spain, it classically comes served on the rocks or with a spritz of soda water (sifón) and garnished with a skewered green olive or citrus twist.

Vermouth holds a special place on our taste buds because of its deep connections to a few of our favorite places like Italy and France where it began. But vermouth is much more of a revered experience in Spain, and particularly, in the region of Catalonia.

Before you travel to Europe (especially Spain), you’ll be a leg up if you know a thing or two about vermouth from its history, its cultural significance, how it’s made, and the best time of day to enjoy it. So here you are: a cheat sheet for all things vermouth.

A Brief History Of Vermouth

Although vermouth’s popularity began in Italy and France, Spain too is all about vermouth. Spain’s vermouth history can be traced to the Catalonian rural town of Reus, where Italians introduced the spirit to the locals during the 19th century. At that time, Reus – located less than two hours South of Barcelona – was already a major player in liquor production with the small town once boasting more than 30 vermouth producers alone!

Before vermouth became a social lubricant however, it had a more practical past. The spirit was created in the late 18th century for its medicinal qualities. And as for its name? Well, it comes from the German word wermut, which translates to wormwood and is one of the main bitters used to make vermouth.

For decades, vermouth was considered a cheap, stuffy drink of older generation, but a recent resurgence has firmly made it an essential (is a bit trendy) piece of modern Spanish culture.

How Vermouth Is Made

There are two main types of vermouth: red and white. Both types of vermouth begin actually begin as white wine and how it becomes vermouth is really just a few extra ingredients. Caramelized sugar and alcohol (usually brandy, sherry, or port) are added along with a blend of herbs, spices (like cinnamon or cardamom), citrus (like lemon or orange), and bitters (such as licorice root or wormwood) to create vermouth.

As for the taste, red (or vermut rojo) is typically sweeter while white tends to be on the drier side. In Spain, most people drink vermut rojo, which has an even sweeter flavor profile than red vermouths you'll find throughout Italy and France.

When To Drink Vermouth

Vermouth is an aperitif, meaning it supposed to help create an appetite, cleanse the palate, and ease digestion. Quite literally, the word aperitif comes from the Latin word aperire, or “to open” as in opening up your palette for the meal ahead. Truth is, it doesn’t take much for us to stimulate our appetites, but we’re onboard with the tradition all the same.

Speaking of which, there’s a phrase in Spain “fer un vermut”, where vermouth is turned into a verb because, well, going for a vermouth (paired with tapas like olives or some hard cheese) is a relaxed, social occasion.

Traditionally, vermouth hour in Spain was reserved to Sunday afternoons, but these days the tradition can be experienced on most afternoons, whether you’re at a crowded vermuteria or in one of Spain’s many markets.

Where To Find Vermouth In Spain 

The exciting part is that almost every bar in Spain will serve up their own housemade vermouth. So, as long as you aren’t ordering a vermouth from one of the major producers, no two glasses of vermouth will be the same!

In most Spanish bars, you’ll find housemade vermouth on tap right alongside the beers. Some places will even place a bottle of vermouth on your table and let you pay by the glass like they do at Bar Electricitat in Barcelona’s Barceloneta neighborhood.

Want to take it away? Choose to fill up your own take away bottle at the barrels at a classic bodega. If you find yourself in Barcelona, try one of Morro Fi multiple locations across the city or Chef Albert Adria’s Bodega 1900

Stateside, while we’re fans of French and Italian vermouths like Cocchi and Dolin, get a taste of Spanish tradition close to home by searching out Lustau, Miro or Yzaguirre vermouth brands.

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Photo by Wine Dharma