Ever hear of a fixed-gear bike race where downing a vermouth is part of the course? Or an erotic workshop that advertises itself by promoting the prospect of drinking vermouth? Welcome to Barcelona, where the resurgence of this once old man drink has reached epic proportions. Not only can it be found in the trendiest bars, it is now the perfect accessory for any social event where people are crowding to fer el vermut (literally, ‘to do vermouth’).
What Is Vermouth?
Vermouth is a fortified aromatic wine that comes in three varieties: red, white and rosé. Outside of Europe it’s more commonly thought of as an ingredient in a martini or Manhattan cocktail. The Catalan version, vermut, which you will find in most bars in Barcelona, is often red, sweet and spiced with a bitter aftertaste. It’s imbibed on its own with a slice of orange or olive or it can be diluted by sifón (carbonated water or soda), which is often served with the drink, allowing you to add as much or as little as you like.
Vermouth is often taken with several small dishes on the side, which range from stuffed olives to tinned or house preserved ingredients, such as fish or calamari. While the idea of gourmet tinned products may be alarming to some people, something special occurs in those cans and the overall combination of a salty dish with a sweet vermut is sublime.
Just keep in mind that according to tradition, vermut should be taken in the mornings or as an afternoon aperitif, never late at night. The ideal time to drink vermut is on a late Sunday morning.
How Did It Begin?
The Spanish region of Catalonia has been producing its own vermut for local consumption since the 19th century and there are currently more than 25 brands in Spain. It is said that this drink has always had a place in the social life of Barcelona. It was the drink of the Spanish bourgeoisie before the Civil War and a symbol of the post-war working class. However, for years it was widely regarded as a tipple for old men.
So what happened to make it the drink of choice in this lazily cool city? Some point to its retro appeal and the attraction of a daytime fiesta. It has even been linked to Catalan nationalism. However, others attribute its sudden resurgence to vermouth producer, Casa Mariol and specifically, Miguel Angel Vaquer. For generations, the Vaquer family has had vineyards in the province of Tarragona and for the past 13 years they’ve had a flagship bar in Barcelona, selling their wines from the barrel and by the bottle. Miguel Angel took over the bar, reinventing its image and that of its vermut, creating one of the city’s first vermuterias.
Where to Go for Drinks in Barcelona
The city is currently bursting at the seams with places to enjoy this drink, from traditional bodegas (taverns) to vermuterias, where it comes straight from the barrel and hip bars. Here is our selection of places that do it best.
This is the place that arguably started it all. This post-modern vermuteria seamlessly mixes the old and new, while the design of its bottles is impossibly hip. It offers an artisanal vermut made with a base of white wine and flavoured with aromatics such as rosemary, thyme and orange peel. It arrives at your table with the ubiquitous self-serve sifón. Casa Mariol also serves some of Barcelona’s best dishes of preserved ingredients and clotxes (a type of sandwich typical to the Catalonia region).
This vermuteria and tapas bar is a homage to the humble bodega, which is very much reflected in the cosy tavern-style ambience of the place. Opened by Albert Andria, the younger brother of world famous chef, Ferran Adria of El Bulli, the menu lists 17 vermouths and elaborate dishes with an unexpected twist on traditional Catalan cuisine. Additionally, the place has many nice touches, such as serving ice cubes stamped with ‘1900’ in each drink.
It all started in 2007 with a blog about the Barcelona foodie scene run by three friends. The blog became incredibly popular among locals, leading to the opening of this hip hole-in-the-wall in the L’Eixample neighbourhood, which is sure to satisfy vermut enthusiasts and gourmands alike. On Sundays it pumps with a cosmopolitan crowd. Following its success, they’ve also expanded to a second bar, Mitja Vida.
Senyor Vermut is a cosy spot decorated with cocktail sifónes and photos of old Barcelona from owner Jordi Miralles’ private collection. Here you can enjoy a delicious house vermut and a plate of patatas bravas (a popular potato dish) that is out of this world (the tinned snacks are also excellent). Miralles opened this neighbourhood joint in 2003 and he’s the heart and soul of this friendly vermuteria.
Best Time to Visit
Best Time to Visit Barcelona: Additionally, the city has a wealth of festivals and events on offer, from the Sonar and Primavera Sound music festivals, which are both in June, to more cultural offerings, such as Festa Major de Gràcia in August and La Mercè in September.
Where to Stay
Image Credits: Getty Images