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Spanish Vermouth’s Happiest Hour

At bars like Senyor Vermut in Barcelona, vermouth is the aperitif of choice for locals.
Aperitif hour at Senyor Vermut in Barcelona.

Vermouth’s DNA traces largely back to Italy, but the aperitif’s diaspora spreads throughout southern Europe. As François Monti details in his exploration of Barcelona’s drinks culture, vermouth holds a particular place of prominence in Spain’s way of drinking. We asked Monti—a Madrid-based journalist who’s also the author of El Gran Libro del Vermut—and Jake Parrott of Haus Alpenz (importer of a wide range of aperitifs, including Miró vermouth from the wine’s Spanish stronghold of Reus), for their perspectives on what makes Spanish vermouth traditions unique.

Day Drinking

“Vermouth is a daytime thing in Spain for the most part,” says Parrott. “This is a country that doesn’t start drinking Gin & Tonics until midnight. It’s like the way you or I might go for a beer at 3 pm, folks in Barcelona will go for a vermut.”

For Monti vermouth hour begins even earlier. “It’s before lunch,” he says. This is partly because vermouths made in Spain lend themselves to drinking earlier in the day. “Although they taste sweeter, Spanish vermouths have less sugar than Italian vermouths,” says Monti. “They’re much less bitter and intense. Their lighter profile and lesser persistence in the mouth means they don’t tire the tastebuds (and, let’s be honest, don’t satisfy them either) as much as most Italian vermouths. The earlier you drink, the less you want your senses to be overwhelmed by what you’re drinking. Spanish vermouths are for repeat customers—for long, lazy sessions. They are to Italian vermouths what the Spritz is to the Negroni.”

For Parrott, the selling point of Spanish vermouths comes down to drinkability. “Spanish vermouths are friendly—they’re sweet, though they’re not as sweet as Italian vermouths,” he says. “And they’re a little higher in acid—they like to be cold, and they like to be iced, with a little dilution to offset the sweetness. You can make a chicken-and-egg argument that they were made for drinking this way, or they’re drunk this way because of how they’re made, but there’s a friendly character about them.”

Serving Spanish Vermouth

“What’s interesting to me about vermouth service in Spain is that the service is virtually the same everywhere,” says Parrott. “Big, 55-gram ice cubes that you buy at the Carrefour, a healthy 4-ounce or so pour, a slice of orange and two olives in the glass, and you can add your own soda if you want.”

Monti agrees and adds that tap service is especially popular. “Tap service is an essential element: it exerts a strong fascination on locals and tourists, to the point that in cities such as Madrid or Barcelona it’s difficult to attract vermouth drinkers if you don’t have it on tap,” he says. “In the Basque country, they mix vermouth slightly, in what they call a Marianito or a vermut preparado. It’s like a vermouth cocktail: vermouth with dashes of gin and dashes of Campari. It’s a very different serving style than what you’d find in Italy.”

Vermouth & Food

Vermouth’s role as an aperitif means it has a close relationship with food—and Spanish vermouth bars and drinkers keep this in mind. “The common point between Spanish and Italian vermouth is the centrality of food,” Monti says. “But that’s also where the experience starts to differ. In Spain, vermouth is served with salty and savory ingredients and canned food: olives, anchovies, boquerrones in oil, mussels in escabeche. Those flavors work very well with vermouth.”

Even without the seafood, vermouth is frequently served with at least a little something to snack on, as part of the price. “If you’re in Reus, it’s virtually always accompanied by olives and potato chips,” Parrott says. “We like to joke that Vermut de Reus is the only wine in the world traditionally served with potato chips.”

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