As some of you may, or may not, have noticed, there is a tradition here amongst the locals of going out for an aperitif before Sunday lunch. And not just any old aperitif, but a vermut! Of course, it’s not forbidden to drink something other than a vermut and people do partake of other beverages too but, whatever you drink, the custom is often referred to as “going for a vermut”!
For anyone who’s not 100% sure what exactly a vermouth is, here’s a little explanation: Vermouth is a wine-based liqueur, flavoured with a touch of wormwood (the herb used to make absinthe) along with other bitter herbs – although there are hundreds of possible spices and plant ingredients that can be used, in thousands of different combinations, in its production, with typically between 50 and 80 ingredients involved in the production of any one vermouth. As a result, no two vermouths are the same and the range of flavours, smells and nuances is greater than is found in any other type of liqueur.
Although vermouth is enjoyed around the globe, it is very much a European drink. The ancient Greeks used to mix their wine with aromatic herbs and spices for medicinal purposes, including wormwood, the use of which began in ancient Egypt. The earliest historical reference to (what was to eventually become) vermouth dates back to Italy in the year 1549 and a recipe for a drink believed to have therapeutic and healing properties that involved mixing wine with absinthe. It was believed that this aromatic drink made its way originally from Bulgaria, via Hungary and Germany, to Italy and by the end of the 17th century it was being called vermut, derived from the German word wermut, meaning absinthe, and it was from around this time that it began to be sold commercially. Vermouth, as we know it today, is typically of one-two types: the “black”, or red variety which has its origins in Italy and is sweeter than the “white” vermouth, created in France, which is drier and usually has a higher alcohol content.
Vermut in Catalunya
The popularity of vermouth here in Catalunya began at the end of the 19th century in the town of Reus – already a great wine-producing region and a world leader in brandy – when in 1892 three companies started producing the liqueur. By the turn of the century, there were 30 companies producing over 50 varieties, leading to the creation of the trademark “Vermut de Reus”.
Shaken not stirred?
Worldwide, probably the most recognizable brand of vermouth is Martini from Turin, Italy. There is also, of course, the cocktail of the same name and this can sometimes lead to a little confusion! While the cocktail (which may or may not have taken its name from the Italian brand) was originally based on a mix of gin and vermouth with a ratio of 2:1 and was particularly popular during the Roaring Twenties, the ratio of gin to vermouth steadily increased during the 1930s (3:1) and 1940s (4:1) on so on until by the end of the century there was so little (50:1) or no vermouth involved at all, that one wit declared that “a perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy”. So if you would like to order yourself a Martini brand vermouth be sure not to order simply a Martini or you may end up with just a glass of gin!
Sunday Vermouth in Palamós
So what better way to spend your early Sunday afternoon than “going for vermouth”! In Catalunya, this will almost certainly be accompanied by olives and possibly by berberechos (cockles). As explained above, your vermouth may vary greatly from bar to bar and the presentation may include orange or lemon peel or cinnamon sticks and the olives may be in your drink or on the side, or both! In Bodega Xarel.lo, one of the most popular places in Palamós, they will add a generous dash of gin to the vermouth too – so beware!