Culture: In Praise of La Hora del Vermut, Spain’s Cherished Vermouth Hour Tradition
I’ve been missing Barcelona lately—where not long ago, I explored wine bars in search of new-wave Spanish wines—so on a recent afternoon I made a visit to Jose Andres’s Mercato Little Spain at Hudson Yard in Manhattan. Specifically, I longed for the days I spent drinking in the city’s vermuterias. So I went to Mercato Little Spain’s vermuteria with the cheeky name, Bar Celona. (Get it?) I ordered a Yzaguirre Rojo, a classic Catalan red, and was immediately transported back to a sunny la hora del vermut.
Vermouth hour is a sacred time of day in Barcelona. Originally, it meant sometime around noon or 1 pm, when you grabbed a vermouth and a snack to tide you over until lunch. But these days, the vermouth hour can be any time before a meal, though it usually means day drinking. A vermouth over ice, with maybe a slice of citrus and an olive, along with potato chips, some kind of tinned fish, and gilda (skewers of olive, pepper, and anchovy) is one of the loveliest ways to pass an afternoon.
Spanish vermut generally has a different taste than its Italian counterpart. It’s more citrusy, brighter and less bitter, meant to be drunk not in cocktails but on the rocks with food. To be perfectly honest, Spanish vermouth is not meant to be a complex drink you spend a lot time pondering over.
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Because Barcelona had one of the largest communities of Italian immigrants when Italian vermouth was becoming widely exported during the late 19th century, vermouth soon became popular in the city. The local Martini vermouth importer even created a bar that was designed by famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. This is when vermouth became the drink of choice in Catalonia, often taken by families after church and before lunch on Sundays. But by the late 20th century, vermouth languished as an old man’s drink.
Then, about a decade ago, a younger generation of trendsetters in Barcelona set off a vermouth renaissance. Part of it was a new wave of local vermouth brands, such as Casa Mariol and Morro Fi. Part was also a sense of pride in local products as Catalan nationalism grew.
These days, while much of the vermouth production happens in Catalonia, the drink has become wildly popular all over Spain. In Jerez, where Sherry is becoming a harder and harder sell, several well-known Sherry houses have started making quality vermouth.
Still, Barcelona is the vermuteria capital. As I sat at Bar Celona, I thought about some favorite vermuterias: the century-old Bar Electricat, in the old port neighborhood of La Barceloneta, where you drink vermouth from an unmarked bottle, which the waiter measures to calculate your bill; cozy, local Cala del Vermut Celler, near the Gothic cathedral, where you can eat fantastic tortilla and jamón with your vermut; the more posh Quimet & Quimet in the Poble Sec neighborhood, with an amazing array of tinned fish and montaditos.
I couldn’t necessarily tell you the brands of vermouth I drank in those places. But it doesn’t really matter. In the end, Spanish vermouth is all about a vibe.
7 Spanish Vermouths to Try
Barcelona was the spot where Spain’s vermouth renaissance started, and so Catalonia remains a source of great vermouth. But there are growing number of vermouth brands now coming from Jerez, as Sherry houses look to diversify their offerings.
Navazos-Palazzi Vermut Rojo
This offering from famed Sherry negociant Equipo Navazos and importer PM Spirits comes from Jerez. Bright, citrusy and super floral, with notes of lavender and chamomile on the nose and tea-like notes on the palate. Great on ice or in cocktails.
From the famed Sherry producer, this is vibrant and bright, with a nose that’s a swirl of blossoms, orange peel and oregano. It’s light and lithe in the mouth with citrus and cocoa flavors.
Here is another vermouth from a Sherry house, in this case Barbadillo. It’s nutty and full of clove, nutmeg and brown sugar.
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Last Updated: October 31, 2023