One of our favorite ways to pass an afternoon when traveling to Spain?
By taking a page from the locals and gathering with friends or family (preferably on a terraza), nibbling on tapas, 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 -- as in we think of vermouth as one of a list of ingredients but in Spain, it's a way of life! If you order vermouth – vermut – in Spain, it traditionally 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 Spain, you’ll have 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, here is a cheat sheet for all things vermouth.
First Of, What Is Vermouth?
Although vermouth’s popularity began in Italy and France, Spain is all about vermouth. Spain’s vermouth history can be traced to the Catalonian town of Reus where Italians introduced the spirit during the 19th century. At that time, Reus – located less than two hours South of Barcelona – was 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 since that is one of the main bitters used to make vermouth.
For decades, vermouth was considered a cheap, stuffy drink of the older generation, but a recent resurgence has firmly made it an essential (is a bit trendy) piece of modern Spanish culture.
So How Is Vermouth Made?
There are two main types of vermouth: red and white. All vermouth begins as white wine and what makes it vermouth is the addition of a few key ingredients. Caramelized sugar and alcohol (usually brandy, sherry, or port) are added along to the white wine base 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 You'll Want To Drink Vermouth
Vermouth is an aperitif, meaning it is 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 on board 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 vermouth (paired with tapas like olives or some hard cheese) is a relaxed, social occasion.
Traditionally, vermouth hour in Spain was reserved for 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 recipe. So, as long as you aren’t ordering 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 as they do at Bar Electricitat in Barcelona’s Barceloneta neighborhood.
Want to take it away? Choose to fill up your own takeaway 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.
How about you? What is your favorite type of vermouth? Let us know in the comments below.
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Photo by Wine Dharma