“Doing vermouth” or “fer vermut”
Sometimes I have an insatiable thirst for a delicious, cold cocktail and if you fancy a bit of pre-lunch or dinner socialising too, “doing vermouth” or “fer vermut” as the people of Barcelona say, is a good way to start.
“Doing vermouth” became a popular way of socializing
Like its neighbour on the Mediterranean shores, Italy, Spain too is in the midst of something called a vermouth (“vermut” in Catalan) renaissance, with Barcelona and Madrid as it’s capitals. Trends pick up fast in Barcelona and blending old and new is something that Barcelona does exceptionally well, so well in fact that the ritual of meeting colleagues or friends for vermouth time gave rise to a new expression “Fer el vermut”. “Fer el vermut or “doing the vermouth” became in effect a popular saying for an afternoon of drink and snacks with friends, regardless of whether the vermut is -de facto- consumed. Contrary to some other Mediterranean countries, in Barcelona socializing centers more around local meeting places like bars than than around the classic dining table. Not surprisingly the revived interest in vermut also lead to tidal wave of vermouth-themed bars, besides renewed gastronomic interest too. Michelin-starred chefs of the likes of the Adria brothers (of El Bulli fame) have gotten in on the action by opening their own Vermutería, Bodega 1900, in 2013. Before Bodega 1900, Casa Mariol, with its funky décor and wooden barrels, was always one of the the reference points for the vermut scene in Barcelona.
“Vermut de Grifo” or vermouth on tap
In spite of its renewed popularity vermouth actually never left Barcelona. In Barcelona’s golden age before the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), vermut has been the drink of Barcelona’s bourgeoisie, while after the war it became the drink of Barcelona’s working-class. The neighbourhood of Barceloneta was the vermut place to be up to the Summer Olympics of 1992, when the city gentrified and reformed Barceloneta beyond recognition. But, on the good side of things, many bars still serve their house vermouth directly from wooden casks (though in Catalunya neither barrel-ageing nor home blending are allowed, nobody seems to care). Generally this kind of vermut serving is called “Vermut de Grifo” or vermouth on tap. Draught vermouths are part of tradition in Catalonia, where hundreds of small winemakers once produced vermouths, sometimes labelled “vino aromatizado”, on the sideline next to their normal wine or other businesses.
In Spain a certified vermouth requires a spirits licence, although in fact vermouths are fortified aromatized wines. A wine base is fortified by adding a neutral spirit (in most cases a grape brandy) and aromatized through the infusion and distillation of botanicals, including roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, and spices. Vermouth actually comes from the French pronunciation of the German wermut, which means wormword, one of the botanicals used in the production of vermouth. It is the right mix of botanicals (each brand usually uses between 50 and 80 different ingredients) that determines the aromas and flavours of a good vermouth.The colour of the vermouth does not result from colour of the basic wine, but is a result of the botanicals used. Home made vermut or “vermut casero” is usually macerated through gentle heating, either by mechanical means, or simply in demijohns through “sun and serenity” as one bar owner told me.
“Vermut negre” the sweetened, red vermouth
In the vermut bars of Barcelona, one generally finds the sweetened, red vermouth (known as “vermut negre”). And, what is there not to like (assuming you have the appropriate legal drinking age) about the tawny-coloured liquor served up or on the rocks, with or without a squirt of soda, and garnished with an orange slice, a green olive, lemon twist or just pure, without anything? There are more than 25 brands of vermouth in Spain, the best known being Yzaguirre, Iris and Miró, all hailing from the town of Reus in Tarragona. Casa Mariol’s vermut is an artisan version, made with a base of white wine from the Macabeo grape, darkened with green walnuts and flavoured with as many as 150 aromatics, prominent among which are rosemary, thyme, orange peel and green olives.
My advice would be to go to a good vermut bar (yes, we’ll give you some of our own recommendations below) and switch between vermouth brands to find the ones you like. Or, to spend an evening doing the Vermouth cocktail test with par example four leading Spanish brands of vermouth and 4 brands from par example France, Italy or the USA. Pick your samples wisely or ask a good bartender to point you in the right direction.
Shaken or stirred?
In the cocktail world there has always been discussion about the classic dilemma facing cocktail lovers: is the perfect vermouth shaken or stirred? The preference for shaking or stirring has to do with a liking for fast or slow diluting of the alcoholic beverage. The end result is the more or less the same. Shaking or stirring basically gets the drink to the same temperature. If you prefer to stir it takes up to 90 seconds to get the right dilution and chilling. If shaking is your thing, it calls for more energy, but it dilutes the drink fairly quickly, the required temperature can be attained in 10 or 15 seconds. Though some people say that shaking will dilute the drink more and “bruise” the gin. It breaks the oils out of the gin and the Martini becomes cloudy, while stirring gives a clearer, sharper looking vermouth. Another variation on the same theme is the naked vermouth, where you keep all your ingredients in the freezer until you pour them straight into a chilled cocktail glass. The naked vermouth takes advantage of all the ingredients, there’s no dilution.
It’s vermouth time in Barcelona, some great classic places and new additions:
Bodega 1900 is no bar in the ordinary sense, you don’t go to Bodega 1900 only for an aperitif, there is also the more than delicious, accompanying food itself.
Carrer de Tamarit, 91, 08015 Barcelona
Senyor Vermouth opened in December 2013 at the hands of Jordi Miralles, who noticed that his neighborhood (Antiga Les Corts) lacked a bar where you can enjoy different varieties of vermut, on par with some mythical appetizers. Watch out for Jordi’s collection of old Barcelona photos and cocktail siphons.
Carrer de Provença, 85, 08029 Barcelona
The neighbourhood of Gracia has since September 2014 a new and highly recommended vermouth bar. Start with a carefully selected vermouth, some home made chips, smoked salmon with tartar sauce or spectacular Cantabrian anchovies just to wind down the day.
Carrer Sant Domènec, 15, 08012 Barcelona
El Chaflán de Barcelona
Original and different Gastrobar, Mediterranean market cuisine with an innovative twist. Discover their vermutería, very good gin tónics or other irresistible cocktails.
Carrer del Comte d’Urgell 280, 08036 Barcelona
Quimet & Quimet
If do not mind standing while sipping your vermouth and love an informal and relaxed atmosphere tiny Quimet & Quimet is the place to be. With vermouth from Reus and on tap, and more than 300 wines to choose from, you are spoilt for choice. Another fact stands out as well, Quimet i Quimet is its amazing culinary offerings.
Carrer Poeta Cabanyes, 25, 08004 Barcelona
Located minutes away from the Sagrada Familia Casa Mariol produces their own excellent vermouth; a spicy, aromatic drink that comes in smart, newly designed bottles. While sipping, you can enjoy some of the best canned food (Barcelonese love this stuff, but foreigners have to get used to it), along with excellent sandwiches (called clotxes) typical of the region of Catalunya, where the vineyards are located.
Rosselló, 442, 08025 Barcelona
Les Forques, 2, 43786 Batea, Tarragona
Cala del Vermut
One of the finest spots in town that still honours the old Catalan tradition of vermut on tap, they have their own sweet, red vermouth. Especially during the hour leading up to lunch “hora del vermut” this cosy, little bar has people queuing up the street with a vermut del grifo (draft vermouth) in their hand and anchovies from L’Escala or a small plate of olives on the side.
Carrer de les Magdalenes, 6, 08002, Barcelona
If you are short on time and would like a local guide to show you a selection of the best places go to in Barcelona try Trip4real, they organise Off the Beaten Path Vermouth Tours.