Spain – Vermut en Grifo: Vermouth on tap with fried almonds and olives
When we travel I watch for and try to learn about local customs, especially in food and culture. One of the customs I noticed here in Spain is that the locals stop at a bar for a glass of vermut (vermouth) on tap as an aperitivo before lunch or dinner. Bars here by the way are not just for drinks. It’s a general term for places where you can stop by for coffee, lunch or dinner, and of course, tapas all day long. Back to vermouth. There are bars in Barcelona and Madrid specifically inviting you to sample their vermut and signs saying hay vermut de grifo (we have vermouth on tap) can be seen in some of these places.
Vermouth is a fortified wine to which sugar, spices and aromatics are added. It has Greek and Roman origin and became famous in Italy (Piedmont) but found a home in Spain where it is served chilled in a 3-4 oz glass with a twist of lemon and sometimes sparkling water in a siphon bottle on the side. The reddish elixir is a little sweet, not overly so, aromatic with a hint of spice and depending on the herbs, fruit, flowers or flavouring used, may have some fine herbal, floral and caramel notes. Vermouth by the way is part of the martini cocktail. The difference between a “wet” or “dry” martini refers to the amount of vermouth added to the drink.
In Madrid and Barcelona there are vermut bars serving the aperitif on tap where locals go to “do vermouth” (fer el vernut). At the fabulous and incomparable Mercado san Miguel, a tapas “market” in Madrid within 5 minutes walk form our rented apartment, you can get Vermouth on tap and they serve it with little bowls of olives or fried almonds. I was fascinated seeing people stop by for a glass of vermouth at 10:30 in the morning. A glass of vermut and a tapa or two will keep you going until lunch. If they don’t have it on tap then it will come from a bottle, but I prefer the tap version here. Needless to say I adopted this custom immediately upon discovering it and enjoyed a few sips of vermouth when the opportunity arose (not before the crack of noon though). My modus operandi is to order everything but not necessarily finish what I ordered, a few sips or a couple of bites are usually enough, but 2-3 oz was workable and the vermut was refreshing and nice. My husband can finish it for me if necessary. There are many places to have great vermut experience and it’s best if you find your own but for starters if you are in Barcelona try Quimet Quimet or Casa Mariol and in Madrid for sure stop by the Mercado San Miguel or Bodegas Ricla for great vermut on tap.
In Mercado San Miguel they serve a few different kinds of vermut on tap including Vermut Reus. Vermut Reus, considered a benchmark vermut and one of the top vermut in Spain comes from the town of Reus in province of Tarragona in Catalunya. It has a slight bitter aftertaste and herbal aromas from the herbs and spices used to enhance its flavour. It is made with white wine base (grapes in the area are Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo) and the herbs may include sage, marjoram, lemon balm, coriander, fennel, camomile and cinnamon. It is sometimes served mixed with sparkling water and sometimes with gin, rum or vodka. Some of the prestigious brands include Miro and Yzaguirre and Martinez Lacuesta.
If you are not in Spain don’t despair, you can still make your own version of vermut at home and even make the fried almonds. Recipes below.
Vermut aperitivo (2 servings):
7 oz sweet vermut (Vermouth) such as Martini Rosso or Cinzano
(optional: replace 2 oz with dry vermouth)
1 lemon slice and 1 orange slice (half a circle each)
An ice cube or two
A few drops of sparkling water
Place ice cubes and fruit slices in a straight sided glass
Divide the vermouth and sparkling water between the glasses.
Enjoy as an aperitivo before lunch or dinner.
2 cups almonds, brown skin removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
Sprinkling of Maldon or salt or another special salt (I have fleur de sel from Ibiza I brought from Spain)
Either buy the almonds skinless (white) or remove the skin by dropping the almonds into boiling water for 45 second and then squeezing them out of their skin. It takes a a little work but certainly doable.
Warm up the olive oil in a skillet, add almonds and toss to coat.
Add rosemary and cook another couple of minutes.
Sprinkle with salt and toss to distribute.
Cool and serve with an additional sprinkling of salt.