It was early evening in Barcelona – that wonderful moment in Spain when work is over, but the sun has come out and there are still a few hours until dinner. I chilled outside a bar called Morro Fidrinking vermouth on the rocks and nibbling on olives, chips and preserved, those preserved fish that are a delicacy in the Iberian Peninsula.
Morro Fi is elegant and modern, with a minimalist interior and an equally minimalist menu. “We only serve vermouth, beer and snacks,” said owner Marcel Fernandez. “As a child, I would go out with my parents after church for vermouth, before going to lunch with the family. So I haven’t been very creative. It’s the same menu vermuteria It would have served when I was a kid.”
Tea vermouth time, “vermouth time”, is a sacred time of day in Barcelona. Originally, it meant around noon or 1pm, when you would have vermouth and a snack to tide you over until lunch. But nowadays, vermouth time can be any time before a meal, although it usually means drinking it throughout the day. “We don’t like being open late at night,” Fernandez said.
Morro Fi operates in a narrow space that was a wineshop from the 1950s until 2010, when Fernandez first opened, after covering the city’s bar scene as a blogger. “This is the perfect bar for me, a contemporary place that hasn’t invented anything,” he said. “I don’t know if this bar would work if you put it in the US”
Vermouth is an aromatized wine, infused with vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits, that has around 17% alcohol by volume. Ingredients vary, but generally include quinine, wormwood, citrus peel, vanilla, gentian root, thyme, ginger, and baking spices. “Producers will say, ‘Oh, our vermouth has thirty, sixty, or a million herbs,’” said Fernandez, who created his own homemade vermouth for Morro Fi. “Ours has ten ingredients,” he said, “but they’re secret.”
“Spanish vermouth is not something you spend thinking about how complex it is or how sophisticated you are,” Monti said.
Vermouth’s historical roots are in Turin, Italy, where the appetizer it became a staple in the late 18th century. In the mid-19th century, it was exported all over the world. Barcelona, at that time, had the largest Italian immigrant community in Spain, and local vermouth importer Martini built a bar that was decorated, in part, by legendary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.
“That’s when vermouth became the Catalans’ favorite drink,” said François Monti, a Spain-based drinks writer and author of The Big Book of Vermut, told me. Catalonia is now the center of vermouth production in Spain, home to brands such as Casa Mariol, Yzaguirre and Timbal, which can be found in the US.
One night, I met my friend Lucy Garcia — a Barcelona-based film producer who worked with Anthony Bourdain when he filmed in Spain — at Cala del Vermut, close to the city’s old Gothic cathedral. There we ate a fantastic tortilla, potato bravas, It is pan with tomato with our vermouth, which was served from a barrel at the bar. “Boil the vermouth (literally ‘making vermouth’) was a ritual throughout Catalonia, but it almost disappeared in Barcelona, practically at the same time that people stopped going to mass,” said Garcia. “It was basically an old man’s drink until about ten years ago.” That’s when a new generation of trendsetters – like Fernandez – began the vermouth renaissance. That evening, in Cala del Vermut, I was surprised to see that there were no old men, but rather a group of handsome, well-dressed young people.
Spanish vermouth has a very different flavor than its Italian cousin. On the one hand, it’s not as bitter, but it’s more citrusy and fresh. And it should not be consumed in cocktails, but with ice, with food. “Spanish vermouth is not something you spend thinking about how complex it is or how sophisticated you are,” Monti said.
In Barcelona, my favorite vermuterias it has less to do with the quality of the vermouth and more to do with the overall feeling, a vibe. When I asked Garcia what her favorite vermouth bar was in Barcelona, she laughed. “I love the one in front of my apartment.”
Where to drink vermouth in Barcelona
One of the places that started the vermouth renaissance in Barcelona. It has several outposts; the most central location is in the L’Eixample neighborhood.
Close to the original Morro Fi, it’s a perfect second stop for patatas bravas or croquetas.
This popular Poble Sec spot offers some of the city’s most renowned tapas and mouthpieces, as well as homemade vermouth and an extensive wine list.
You would be left to skip one of the city’s oldest bars, dating back to 1908.
Next to Barcelona Cathedral, this narrow place serves house vermouth by the barrel at the bar.
A version of this story first appeared in the December 2023/January 20214 issue of Travel + Leisure under the title “On the Rocks.”