February 2017: ‘La Hora del Vermut’

The revival of Spanish Vermouth.

Vermut with orange and olive at Milamores Café & Vermú, Circolo des belles Artes in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

There’s been lots of column inches devoted to the revival of sherry drinking in the UK and the opening of Spanish restaurants offering a variety of sherry options — albeit overpriced compared to one euro per glass at many venues on our recent visit to Jerez de la Frontera! Sherry really is the popular drink of choice in bars and cafes there, but coming close behind is vermouth [in Castellano Spanish], vermut[in Catalan Spanish] or vermú [in Andalusian Spanish] — now produced all over Spain from Galicia in the north to Andalusia in the south.

What is vermouth?
Like the original Italian product, vermouth usually comprises a wine base with added herbs and ‘botanicals’ but the main additional ingredient is wormwood — the word vermouth/vermut/vermú is derived from the german ‘wormgüt’ for wormwood. The wine base can be albarino in Galicia, temperanillo in Catalonia or a sherry base in Andalusia.

In addition to 70/75cl or litre bottles, some brands are also available in 1.5 and 2 litre plastic bottles, 5 litre plastic barrels and bag-in-boxes — or ‘en barril’ straight from the wood in traditional bars — called ‘tabancas’ in Jerez. Advice from Ben Holbrook, a blogger based in Barcelona, is to always to ask for ‘vermut de la casa’ — from the barrel or the unmarked bottle from under the counter!

How to serve it

It’s usually served neat in a short glass with a a large block of ice and a twist of orange — or if somewhere posh with a speared olive in addition to the orange. Sometimes it’s offered with a syphon of soda — cue revival of traditional glass syphons in a plastic or chain metal enclosure!

Also many of the producers have cocktail recommendations — so many to try, so little time!

Milamores Café & Vermú, Circolo des Belles Artes in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

On my map vermouth producers and bars are indicated around Spain with hipster Barcelona having the longest list of venues to try — Ben Holbrook lists many more, both traditional and contemporary. A number of producers have excellently designed websites to explain the origination and constituents of their product — usually a white, red and dark ‘traditional’ and some offer pricing for the wholesale trade. For individual bottles the wine section of the supermarkets in El Cortes Inglés department stores carry an interesting selection at reasonable prices — so stock up on your next trip to Spain!

From the Padro & Co website — historical image at the bodega in Bràfim near Reus and redesigned bottle Myrrha Reserva and recently introduced and dramatically packaged Rojo Amargo Vermouth featuring copper coloured embossed lettering and flourescent colours. [Courtesy Padro&Co]

Reus - vermouth central
The largest concentration of vermouth producers is around the town of Reus, near Tarragona in Catalonia province. The town has a Museo del Vermut displaying the history of vermouth production and a bar/restaurant with sponsored spaces offering opportunities to taste various brands. The Padró family in the nearby village of Bràfim have made vermouth for over 100 years, originally distributed in barrels (and later bag-in-box). More recently they decided to redesign the bottle for their original vermouths (Myrrha) and in 2016 they launched a range of 4 Premium vermouths which are interconnected – each one has something of one of the others — the white is in between the typical very sweet and very dry types.

Vermouth in all four corners of Spain
The Nordesía brand has recently been stylishly rebottled by GoDrinks featuring a Cecaelia character [half man, half octopus!] to allude to their dramatic Atlantic location. GoDrinks, based in Vedra, near A Corũna also produces Nordés gin and vodka. Their red Nordesía is produced from Galician Mencía grapes and matured in French oak barrels for four months before bottling; the Albariño grape is the basis for Nordesía white.
The Neptune-like character on Vermu Nordesia bottles and promotions is derived from Greek mythology: part Bacus, part Neptune, part Eolo and part octopus. [Courtesy GoDrinks/Nordesia]

Based near Santiago de Compostela, Bodegas Lodeiros follow a recipe going back to 1940 and emphasise their artesan methods and small-scale production. The Vermello red vermouth is dark with a fragrant, sweet and intense flavour with aromas of herbaceous notes of sage, marjoram, mugwort, cinnamon and vanilla — spending 30 days in oak barrels. The Vermu Branco white is bright yellow maturing to a golden colour, very aromatic and fruity. Both are available in stylish bottles and bag-in-box for dispensing from large ceramic jars and small wooden barrels, purchasable separately. Serving suggestions include mixing the two Vermouths as an alternative option.

Vermut Lodeiros offer presentation boxes and ceramic and wooden barrels fillable from 5 litre bag-in-box containers. [Courtesy Bodegas Lodeiros]

Also based in Galicia, St Petroni is made from Albarino grapes grown in the valley of Padrón vinified on the lees and infused with 29 selected plants include absinth, bay leaves, lemon verbena, mint, rosemary, thyme, sage and lemon balm, citrus elements, hibiscus and chamomile.

Bodegas Fernández in Pelúgano produce Vermouth Robertini, a ‘solera’ vermouth aged for a minimum of 14 months in oak casks that are are topped up due to contact with the wood. Cidres Castañón in Quintueles near Villaviciosa make Roxmut, an unusual ‘vermouth’ based on cider. The production facility looks very new: multiple steep roofs to combat the northern weather.

Basque Region
Vermouth is also produced in the Basque region. Txurrut is owned by industrialist Antonio Vence, based mainly on his own native Txakoli Hondarribi Zuri grapes and fruit from his own orange and lemon trees, plus about 20 aromatic herbs. Meaning ‘a small sip’ in Basque, it is available as 'Txurrut' , 'Txurrut Vintage' and 'Txurrut Vintage Zuria’. The winemaker is Imanol Sarasola and the designer Nuria Ortega. The production location is in Sopuerta, just west of Bilbao.

A bit further south in the Basque region is the Acha distillery, established in 1831 and producing a wide range of distilled drinks including red and white Atxa Vermouth, based on a 100 year old recipe using Airén, the ‘workhorse’ grape variety, grown widely throughout Spain.

Castile and León
Other brands produced in the north of Spain are Perdõn in León — the website lists all the bars it distributes to — la Ruta del Perdõn! and Vermut Guerra: produced by Bodega Bierzo in nearby Cacabelos. Vermouth Golfo is made in Burgos from overripe grapes of the Temperanillo variety from Ribera del Duero. It’s aged in barrel to a mahogony colour.

Poster for ‘La Ruta del Vermouth Zarro’, the recently introduced Zarro Ecológico/Organic Vermut and the Zarro La Vermuneta mobile bar. [Courtesy Bodegas Sanviver].

In Madrid, the two local brands are Zarro and Zeccini. Bodegas Sanviver’s Zarro is available in the three usual styles, a limited edition Vermouth Único and an Ecologico/Organic Vermouth. This producer is very promotion conscious: ‘La Ruta del Vermouth Zarro’ offers a vermouth drink and a different specific tapas for 2.50 Euros. This year it's 12 bars around Calle Mayor. Zarro also have La Vermuneta Citroen vans [beloved of food truck enthusiasts] for events. Zeccini have a more traditional offer: their vermouth is available in a wide range of packages in addition to bottles, various size american oak barrels and bag-in-box presentations and a limited edition bottle.

Bodegas Cruz Conde produces a comprehensive range of drinks products in Montilla including a Vermouth Special Selection based on Pedro Ximénez grapes. Their former ageing cellar 'Bodegas de Arcos' is available for events and they promote a Montilla Moriles Ruta del Vino for visitors wishing to visit the area south of Cordoba for tastings. Also in Montilla are Bodegas Alvear — founded in 1729 is the oldest winery in Andalusia. They produce a wide range of fortified and still wines, again with emphasis on utilizing Pedro Ximénez grapes. They produce both a red and white vermouth - balancing sweetness with marinated herbs. 

Tabanco Las Cuadras, Jerez de la Frontera.

In Jerez de la Frontera, a number of producers now produce a sherry based vermouth: La Copa: González Byass — made from an original 1896 recipe, includes over 8 year old Oloroso and PX with the usual botanicals. The label uses the original design; Vermut Lustau: produced in association with the Caballero family distillers. It contains Amontillado and PX, both over 10 years old and numerous botanicals including angelica, coriander, gentian and orange peel. All the botanicals are macerated separately and later blended together; Duque de Diano: Genaro Cala: based on old Oloroso and PX wines from the old family bodega of Francisco Cala, this artisanal vermouth is made to an old 19th century family recipe with over 20 botanicals. The vermouth is then barrel aged in its own solera. Bottles are individually numbered; Vermout Amillo Roberto Amillo: Roberto bottles rare old sherries and brandy under the name of Coleccion Roberto Amillo and his vermouth is made from 18 year old Oloroso and PX with over 30 botanicals including cardamom, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, wormwood; Canasta Rosso: Williams & Humbert was introduced in 2008 - based on Canasta Cream, a blend of Oloroso and PX with an average age of over six years; Vermut Sherry Cask: Fernando de Castilla is made from PX and Oloroso macerated with 27 botanicals, where possible sourced locally. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 8 years before infusion with botanicals.

Vermouth producers and specialist bars in Spain. For a clearer map visit our Bloggspot site: http://ericgristwood.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/la-hora-del-vermut.html

And there’s more . . .
Right across Spain, wineries and distilleries are producing vermouth: In addition to those mentioned above are Bodegas Martinez Lacuesta who make Lacuesta Vermouth in Haro, a major wine town of the Rioja region.
    In Valls near Zaragoza, west of Barcelona, Vermut Montseta produce a red, white and reserve vermouth, the latter having 12 months in barrel. Vermut Turmeon is made at Morata de Jalón and Bodegas Valdepablo in Terrer, also near Zaragoza produce Vermouth Luis The Marinero — a modernised version of their classic style vermouth from 1928.
    Vermut Bertsolari, although using a Basque word for it’s name [a traditional poet or singer] is actually made in Catalonia. In Barcelona Vermouth Chappó is helping satisfy the trend for locally made vermouth as is Vermouth Domingo, who have appropriated their bar napkin design for labelling their bottles. Established initially as a tavern in 1896 in Vilassas de Mar, Barcelona, Espinaler is now a gourmet shop selling their own brand sauces, canned fish and seafood, vegetables and legumes, olives, chips [UK crisps] and fresh foods too. Their vermouth is red, white or a reserve that’s also recently available in a limited-edition ‘vintage’ bottle with a corona seal. Morro Fi also sell a range of victuals in addition to vermouth. Casa Mariol is a bar that has it’s vermouth on tap and for sale in bottles; similarly Can Cisa is a shop with Bar Brutal towards the rear of the premises offering their own vermouth.
    In the hinterland of Tarragona south of Barcelona are Vermouth de Luna in Sarral; Vermut Medusa in La Secuita; Vermut dos Deus in Bellmunt del Priorat; Vermut Olave made by Tiechienne in Bellvei del Penedès; De Falset made by Cooperativa Falset Marçà in Falset and Vermut Iris is made by De Muller in Reus. The popular Vermut Miro, established in 1957, is also produced in Reus. Miro offer a range of vermouths in bottle, miniatures, bag-in-box, a vermu cola and Miro Pearls that melt in the mouth! Another major brand: Yzaguirre and more traditionally packaged Vermouth Francisco Simó & Cia are made by Seller Sort del Castle at the village of El Morell. Their four language website [including Russian] has an online shop for their wide range of vermouths including a red available in a 20 litre bag-in-box.
    Further south in Aielo de Malferit near Valencia, Bodegas Alonso Sanz make the stylishly packaged Vermouth 4 Xavos.
    To the far west of Andalusia, Vermut Oliveros in Bollullos Par del Condado between Seville and Huelva, use the local Zalema, Palomino Fino and, for the Reserva, Pedro Ximenez grapes.

Bodegas Valdepablo's Vermut Luis The Marinero and Miro Vermut  Rojo — made to a family recipe.

So, numerous producers and an increasing number of specialist bars for sampling. Bodegas and distilleries are all offering their own unique blend of wines [or cider] and botanicals. And of course there is now The International Society for the Preservation and Enjoyment of Vermut co-founded by Somos Marti Kilpatrick and Maite Roso in San Sebastian who offer tours of bars in San Sebastian and international events too — at Gothenburg in Sweden in 2014. There is also a growing literature on the subject [yet to be translated from Spanish]: Guía del Vermut by Ester Bachs Romaguera; Teoría y práctica del Vermut by Josep Sucarrats, Miquel Àngel Vaquer and Sergi Martín; La hora del Vermut . . . . by Toni Monné; El Gran Libro del Vermut by François Menti. 

A selection of books at the Milamores Café & Vermú, Circolo des Belles Artes in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Needless to say [so I'm saying it] we have yet to taste all the many brands and styles of vermouth listed here — and in tabancas its just a spigot [grifo] in a no-name barrel!

La Hora del Vermut was, apparently the time for vermouth after church on Sunday and before the family meal, but it appears that virtually any time now is ‘La Hora del Vermut’.

Very many thanks to the producers and their staff who responded to my requests for information and permission to use images from their web sites: Louise Jorgensen at Padró & Co; Regina Guerrero at GoDrinks; Pablo Lodeiros at Bodega LodeirosFernando Romero Pérez at Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla SL; Hugo Pinto at Bodegas Alvear and Inmaculada de Miguel at Bodegas Sanviver.

And finally . . .

Lookout for the promotional film from Zarro on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/eric.gristwood