Barcelona, also known as vermouth paradise.
What is vermouth paradise? It's a wonderful place where the sun always shines, and where the city, slowly waking on Saturday morning, transforms to a veritable wonderland of cheap metal terrace seating topped by wax-paper napkins. But behind each nondescript café patio is the real secret:
Vermut casero. I found that, no, every bar in Barcelona is NOT making its own vermouth, as the signs would suggest. Even the vermut de la casa at Bodega 1900 is a mix of -gasp- Martini Rosso (more on that later). However, what each bar does do is start with a base of an often-local, usually artisan, and always delicious vermouth before they add special touches of their own, which can range from added herbal essences to a few drops of other liquors, to mixing various vermouths for a distinct blend.
The sifón is another hallmark of the Barcelona vermouth tradition. These retro containers dispense fizzy seltzer water, which, besides making you look super cool and in-the-know, make the vermouth less potent. This can come in handy if you find the taste strong or have a low tolerance.
The tradition of taking vermouth comes from biding time between Sunday mass and lunch, and has always held a venerated place in Spanish tradition. I will be writing about my favorite vermouth spots in BCN here over the next weeks, as well as doing a more explicatory piece entitled "What is Vermouth, Anyway" or "Vermouth, Isn't That What People Ruin Martinis With" or something like that.
Until then, try it, or keep drinking (good opportunity would be at this Sunday's vermuteke in San Sebastián). And, if you are fortunate as I, the perfect finish to a morning vermouth hopping session is a sunny afternoon at the Barcelona Open. Well, perfect if you don't happen to choose the only year Rafa Nadal has choked at the tournament. Ever. If that should happen to you, I can advise kicking back, sipping on a gin-tonic and snacking on popcorn, and trying to enjoy an Almagro - Giraldo match.