When you think vermouth, your mind probably immediately leaps to cocktails like a Martini or a Manhattan. Or, if you’re a Brit of a certain vintage, you might think of the Dubonnet brand, a French vermouth that’s purported to be a favourite of the Queen, and enjoyed a boom back in the 1970s, usually mixed with lemonade. Either way, you might not know that vermouth in Spain is a very different kettle of fish.
Rather than just being an ingredient in a cocktail or being consumed as a tall drink with a mixer, Spanish vermouth is an aperitif in its own right, best enjoyed poured over a few cubes of ice.
If you’re keen to find out more about vermouth in Spain and want to learn how to drink it like a local, then you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the best Spanish vermouth.
What is Spanish vermouth?
There are different types of vermouth, but the vermouth you’ll most commonly find in Spain is sweet and red, very different from the dry vermouth that you’re probably used to.
But did you know that all vermouth starts out life as white wine? The colour comes from the caramel and spices it’s infused with. Various spices are used, like cloves, cardamom and cinnamon, and no two vermouth recipes will be quite the same. The alcohol content of sweet vermouth is about 15%, so be sure to treat it with respect.
If you’re curious about vermouth’s history, then you’ll be interested to know that the drink was introduced to the small town of Reus in Catalonia in the 19th century by the Italians. It wasn’t long before dozens of vermouth producers had popped up there, with the town once being home to 30 producers at once.
Catalan vermouth is generally served from bottles, but in Madrid you’ll find the best vermouth is on tap, or de grifo.
But how do you drink vermouth in Spain, I hear you cry? It’s normally enjoyed straight or on the rocks, with a slice of orange or lemon, but people sometimes add a dash of carbonated water.
Vermouth in Spain: drinking like a local
Vermouth has been regaining ground in recent years. Drinking vermouth as an aperitif never actually fell entirely out of fashion, but it’s only in recent years that young people have started reembracing this Spanish aperitif. It’s become quite the trend, with shiny new vermuterias popping up alongside the classic taverns that have been serving this stuff for centuries.
Some people chalk that up to how affordable it is, meaning bar-goers whose pockets are still feeling the effects of the crisis can treat themselves to a pre-lunch or afternoon drink without breaking the bank.
If you want to try vermouth in Spain, then you should know that, whilst you can technically drink it at any time of day, it’s meant to be a vermouth aperitif.
An aperitif or aperitivo is meant to be a drink that cleanses the palate, works up an appetite and helps with digestion, perfect for getting you ready for the meal ahead. So, if you want to do it the Spanish way, order yourself a vermouth when you’re gearing up for a big Spanish Sunday lunch. Or, enjoy one later on a Sunday afternoon, when you’re starting to think about dinner.
Not to worry, though, if you’re not in Spain on a Sunday you can still enjoy a vermouth or two on any afternoon of the week.
Most vermouth bars serve glasses of the good stuff with a small, free tapa, which might be olives, bread and cheese or crisps. Whatever it is, chances are it will be salty to set off the sweetness of the drink.
If you’re lucky enough to be in the provinces of Granada or Almeria, down in Andalusia, the tradition of a free tapa is still going strong, so you’ll either be presented with or get to choose a small dish to accompany your Spanish vermouth.
After all, although the drink started its Spanish journey in Catalonia, it’s now a firm favourite all over the country. Look especially for traditional bars that advertise ‘vermut casero’, or homemade vermouth that they’ve prepared themselves.
As we’ve said, every vermouth recipe is different, so why not go on a vermouth crawl, wherever you are in Spain, and find the one you like best?
The best vermouth brands
If drinking vermouth in Spain has meant you’ve developed a taste for this sweet, caramel-coloured liquid, you might what to take a bottle or two home as a gift for someone else, or just for yourself. If so, these are a few of our favourite vermouth brands.
- Miró: This brand from Reus, Catalonia, is one of the oldest in the country.
- Gonzales Byass by Tio Pepe: Tio Pepe is best known for its sherry, but does a mean vermouth, too.
- Petroni: This brand from Galicia offers complex flavours.
Are you excited to try vermouth in Spain for yourself? Pull up a chair at the bar, take a sip of your Spanish vermouth, and soak up the atmosphere.