Spain’s “hour of vermouth” is nestled in the center of the weekend’s sweet spot: tasks at home are done and the day stretches out ahead, promising languid moments in the sun and an open-windowed siesta. Lunch for the entire family is ready and waiting, and although responsibilities may float before and after this early afternoon ritual, they aren’t invited to take a vermouth.
It is a relished hour or two gathered with friends and family, punctuated with the clink of an ice cube in a glass and both-cheek kisses, savory bursts of olives and preserved seafood dripping at the end of a toothpick. It is dignified daytime drinking, enough to whet the appetite but never slipping into sloppiness.
Vermouth is an aromatized wine, fortified with a distilled spirit like brandy and then flavored with botanicals such as cinnamon, citrus peel, coriander and–most importantly—wormwood. A simple green shrub that imparts a bitter taste, wormwood is not only the defining ingredient in vermouth, it is also used in making absinthe. Long put to use medicinally in Europe, wormwood is said to stimulate the appetite and help with indigestion.
In Spain’s bigger cities, where café tables pepper sprawling plazas and glossy men and women dress to be seen, the hum of vermouth hour is noticeable. Spots in the sun are at a premium and folks buzz in through the lanes, greeting one another and claiming seats. Bar counters jam up and before long you’re caught in the current of it, the warm pull of easy togetherness and the sweet trickle of vermouth.
In Secastilla, things feel a little different. Tucked inside of the bar—the village’s one and only regular business and a laid back gathering place—we’re a cozier, less cosmopolitan bunch. More of an extended family than anything else, the tidy after-church crowd blows in to greet the non-goers, who often still have half-moons of dirt under their fingernails from working the fields. We crowd together around the few tables, strewn with tinned mussels and cockerels emptied into small plates and fried calamari. Anchovy-stuffed olives. Bags of ham-flavored potato chips. We are loud, joking and laughing, linked arms and side hugs.
And then, after a vermouth drink or two, we part ways to head home for lunch, grinning and gentler for our time spent together, gladdened by our Sunday afternoon retreat.