As regular readers will know, we recently visited Madrid and gorged ourselves at its myriad restaurants, tascas, bars and any other hostelry we could find. Because of this excessive consumption, we’re currently going through what can only be described as a traumatic process of catharsis, in which we’re avoiding all meat and all booze for as long as we can do it. Current predictions suggest we’ll have caved-in by the end of the week, and the reason for this, perhaps surprisingly, given the general meaty-emphasis of this blog, is not jamon serrano or iberico (though we are having serious cravings), albondigas, callos a la madrileno, chorizo al vino or even fabada, rather it is a little-known and highly underestimated alcoholic beverage.
Vermut, or sweet vermouth (the red stuff made by Martini, amongst others), is a sweetish, but slightly bitter, dark red/maroon colored fortified wine that is very popular in Madrid, with several tascas (tapas bars) we visited having it on tap as they did beer. It is served in a tumbler or a hi-balls glass with a couple of cubes of ice and a slice of lemon. Vermouth is fashioned out of wine grapes (but only the very sugary ones) and various herbs which combine to give the drink a sweetness with a nice herbal astringency that means it’s not too cloying on the palate.
Neither of us had ever drunk neat sweet vermouth before last week, indeed, we’d never even thought of it as an option. I remember discussing with my wife, years ago, that in the UK it’s not uncommon for people to have a glass of dry vermouth either neat over ice or with a splash of soda water or sparkling lemonade (SevenUp etc.), and that in continental Europe if you order a martini, you’ll get a glass of dry vermouth and not a vodka or gin martini cocktail. She was surprised to learn this, but reasoned that it might just be a cultural thing – after all, the Martini cocktail often contains very little, if any, Martini products, so Americans have their own little peculiarities too. And so, with this in mind, we decided it would be rude, nay foolish, if we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity for a new kind of refreshment.
Several successive evenings of tapas led us to the conclusion that vermut, at the very least, should be afforded a place in the noble pantheon of our favored aperitivos, and we learned that approximately three glasses was the optimal number during an evening of roving between various Madrid tascas. Three being enough time to fully appreciate the drink’s complexity and ability to meld its flavors with a variety of tapas dishes, and for the alcohol to build to an appreciable level in our veins.
So, I say to you that you should consider purchasing a bottle of sweet vermouth for purposes other than combining it with whiskey in a “Manhattan” and try it neat alongside a selection of your favorite tapas (recipes for which you should keep an eye out for here at weareneverfull.com in the very near future.)