Article by Carme Granados, who offers guided tours of the center of Reus every week with vermouth as the main protagonist
Among the things to learn about when visiting the townof Reus is undoubtedly the vermouth route. This drink is a symbol of the town and in recent years it has become an important tourist brand that attracts the interest of many visitors.
Its consumption is of course a cultural fact, a socialising element that connects us with tradition and with our way of life. Black or white, with or without ice, with or without carbonated water, with or without a slice of orange in the case of black vermouth, or lemon in the case of white vermouth… There are many ways to drink it, but what is vermouth made of?
75% is white wine (with some exceptions where it is made from red wine) of about 12 degrees and the remaining 25% is the maceration of the botanical formula of each brand, made with a hydroalcoholic solution and sugar, to extract both the aromas and flavours of each botanical element, among which there will always be wormwood or artemisia absinthium.
Did you know that the word “vermouth” comes from German? Wermut Wein: wormwood wine. Wormwood has always been used for its digestive and medicinal properties and is what gives it its characteristic bitter taste.
Why is vermouth so characteristic for Reus? Its importance cannot be understood without first knowing that this town was the great eau-de-vie producing and exporting centre of southern Europe in the 18th century. At that time, Reus was able to specialise in this product, which was increasingly in demand from northern Europe: the Netherlands, northern Germany and France, Sweden, Denmark, England… made Reus a powerful wine industry that also triumphed thanks to the enterprising vision of its producers and merchants, many of whom came from abroad, as well as its location near the Port of Salou, the most important port in Tarragona at that time, which became a notable point of exchange with European markets.
Reus, Paris and London, as the popular saying goes. These were the three cities that fixed the price of the eau-de-vie on the international market
And when did Vermouth appear? We have to go to the end of the 19th century to find the origins of vermouth in Reus. Although this drink has much older origins. If we understand vermouth as a beverage made from wine and macerated botanicals, we find similar references in ancient Greece, when its purpose was mainly medicinal.
Apicius in his work De re coquinaria already speaks of wormwood wine: a wine flavoured with this botanical among other spices
We also find references to wormwood wine in later centuries, but it was especially in the 18th century that it began to become popular as an aperitif. It was Antonio Benedetto Carpano, a winemaker from Turin, who made it fashionable among Italians. Incidentally, it was also in Italy that black or red vermouth appeared, which was obtained by adding caramel.
And at the end of the 19th century, those from Reus specialised in drinks such as liqueurs, champagne (yes, even before cava appeared) and vermouth. Considered the pioneers of vermouth in Spain, it soon began to be distributed throughout the country, while Vermut de Reus brand became bigger and better known. The most important period was in the mid- 20th century, when there were around 50 brands of Vermut de Reus. Undoubtedly, the capital of Vermouth.
Places like the Museu del Vermut, Vermuts Rofes Restaurant, the Oenological Station and the town’s small wineries are essential places to visit to get to know Reus Vermouth and its history. You can also follow the Reus vermouth route by La teva ruta, which offers several tours that combine history, modernism and vermouth. They will take you to the places you can’t miss!