Remember back in December when I said that it felt like vermouth was having a bit of a moment? Well, a little more research into the subject has proven me correct, as the last few years were in fact a big year for vermouth to make a comeback in Barcelona and beyond, and as recently as a few weeks ago a whole book on the subject was published. Written in part by the director of Cuina magazine, it popped up on my Facebook feed shortly thereafter and almost immediately I decided I wanted to check it out, despite the fact that my Catalan is extremely rudimentary and that it wasn’t easy to find a store–even Amazon’s Spanish site!–to send it to me here in the States. After running into a few dead ends, I finally reached out to the publisher Ara Llibres to see if I could buy it directly from them, and they kindly offered to send me a copy to review instead. I would be completely lying if I didn’t say how excited I was to get that package from Barcelona a few days ago.
Onto the book itself: Teoria i Pràctica del Vermut is in essence a little textbook broken into sections–one having some note pages to jot down your thoughts–that cover nearly everything you ever wanted to know about vermouth: its history, popular brands, what food pairs well with it, and cocktail recipes that you can make with it. It’s really a fascinating read on a drink that hasn’t received much respect until very recently again. Back in the early aughts when we were at Peak Cocktail vermouth mainly was something to go into Manhattans and martinis, and if you went over to Europe–especially Spain or Italy–you’d be cautioned against ordering a martini in a bar because you’d end up with a glass of Martini and Rossi with the implication that it would be a terrible experience. But with the arrival of the global financial crisis, the desire to find comfort in tradition helped spark what the authors refer to as the generacio vermut, and interest grew, it was only natural that newer brands would emerge to help clear away the longheld perception of the drink being fusty and old-fashioned.
A fun note: the authors cite the popularity of Sex and the City (or Sexo en Nuevo York as it’s known in Spain) and its many depictions of cocktail-fueled brunches as a sort of predecessor to vermouth’s rise in popularity, as vermouth traditionally is enjoyed in the late morning through mid-afternoon and suddenly, people in Spain were reminded how much fun it is to eat and drink on the weekends at that time.
What I really like about the book is that it’s like a literary heir to the much-missed, long-departed Good Eats: chock full of of both historical context as well as lifting the curtain on how it’s made, plus it’s full of all the kinds of snacks that pair well with the drink as well as other drinks in which it works particularly well. Moreover, you get a really cool list of vermuterias in and around Barcelona in which to fer un vermut for yourself, as well as some brands (both classic and newer ones) to look for at your local bars and stores if boarding a plane to Barcelona isn’t an immediate possibility. A chapter is even dedicated to doing a vermouth “sense vermut” and touches on other aperitifs ranging from beer and wine to Campari, Aperol, and even sangria.
If all of the above wasn’t evidence enough that vermouth has been making a comeback these days, the fact that a bottle of Cinzano fueled a delightful exchange between Roger and Peggy on the third-to-last episode of Mad Men sealed the deal for me. I won’t get too detailed for those who are spoiler-averse but all I will say is that it’s absolutely marvelous and you need to watch it immediately, if not sooner. You might have already seen some GIF sets of it floating about the internet, but even they can’t capture the delight that is this sequence in full.
Perhaps the best argument, though, in favor of vermouth having its moment is that done the Barcelona way, it’s a fantastic cocktail: just the vermouth itself with some fizzy water and an olive and/or orange slice is all you need, but is it ever refreshing to drink. Slightly stronger than a glass of wine or beer but not as potent as a full-fledged cocktail, it’s become one of my favorite things to drink while we get ready to prep our dinner and one of my new favorite drinks to introduce to our friends when they come over for a meal. While sweet, the fizziness of the soda water and the smokiness inherent in Casa Marol’s vermut negre make it much more nuanced, and when served with some salty snacks, everything is nicely balanced together.
Given our new city and newly-revitalized social calendar, it felt time to introduce a new drink into our hosting rotation, and thus I declared this summer to be not only the season of rosé and caftans, but also of vermouth and stripes. The former lends the perfect way to kick back and relax when it’s just the two of us, while the latter is a bit more, shall we say, company-appropriate in addition to being a nice nod to the marintime heritage of both Baltimore and Barcelona. I’ll be sharing some delicious ways to enjoy vermouth over the course of the warmer months–from drinks to snacks that pair well with it to other ways to enjoy it–but to begin it feels appropriate to start with the classic.
Vermut de Barcelona
2 oz vermouth (recommended: Casa Mariol Vermut Negre)
Sparkling water or club soda
1-2 Spanish olives
1-2 small wedges of an orange slice
In a small wine glass or old-fashioned tumbler, add ice (if desired) and vermouth; fill the rest of the glass with sparkling water and serve with a cocktail skewer of olives and/or orange wedges immediately.