All Hail Caesar!

In this post and this post I briefly mentioned the Caesar without fully explaining either its origin or its virtues. I also posted a video about the Caesar here, but it only gives you a hint of the cocktail’s history. Considering the Caesar and I were both born in the same city, I’m feeling a little guilty for not giving Canada’s most beloved cocktail its due. So, without further adieu, the following post will be dedicated to the best use for clam juice ever invented.

The birthplace of the Caesar

In 1969 a new Italian restaurant was opening in the Calgary Inn (now the Westin Calgary) and the manager, Walter Chell, set out to make a signature cocktail. Inspired by the Italian dish spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), he reasoned that a drink made with clams and tomato juice would taste pretty great as well.

It took Chell three months to perfect the unique cocktail, and legend has it that the name came from one of the bar’s regulars (an Englishman) proclaiming “That’s a damn good bloody Caesar.” Within five years of its invention the Caesar was the most popular cocktail in Calgary, and it didn’t take long for the drink to spread throughout the rest of Canada.

Walter Chell and his famous concoction

At the same time that the Caesar was taking off in Calgary, Mott’s was independently developing Clamato juice, a beverage made of clam juice and tomato juice. Clamato was slow to sell at first, but that all changed once distributors heard about Chell’s Caesar. Sales of Clamato grew as the Caesar became more popular, and by 1994 70% of all Clamato sold in Canada was used to make Caesars. Considering 350 million Caesars are consumed here each year, Clamato must be making a decent amount of profit for Mott’s!

As you can imagine, it is quite difficult to convince a non-Canadian to try a drink that contains clam juice. That’s likely why the Caesar is virtually unknown outside of the Great White North. While you can get a similar drink in the US called a Bloody Mary, the base of that cocktail is plain old tomato juice. And, to be honest, they’re pretty nasty when you’ve been raised on Caesars. I’d hazard a guess that the problem is the consistency of the tomato juice, but I have no way to verify that because another Bloody Mary will never pass my lips. Sorry American cousins!

This plaque at the Calgary Westin commemorates Walter Chell inventing the Caesar there in 1969

If you aren’t Canadian and need a compelling reason to try to Caesar for the first time, I’ll do you one better and give you two:

  1. Caesars are renowned for being able to cure hangovers. I’m not quite sure it can be classified as a cure if it’s actually the hair of the dog, but they do work!
  2. A study conducted by the University of Toronto in the 1980s found that drinking a Caesar when you take an aspirin reduces the damage aspirin inflicts on stomach lining. Not only do they taste great, but Caesars also promote better health!

How to craft the perfect Caesar

Now that you know the history and health benefits of the Caesar, it’s time to get down to the business of drinking one. Making a Caesar takes a little bit of patience and a decent amount of ingredients, but the results are totally worth the effort. The following is your guide to getting on the road to Caesarville:

Ingredients:

  • Lime wedge
  • Celery salt
  • Vodka
  • Clamato juice (only Mott’s will do)
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Stick of celery

Instructions:

  1. Rub a lime wedge around the rim of a cocktail glass (a tall tumbler will do), and swirl the moistened rim around a plate filled with celery salt until it is covered
  2. Put ice in the glass (as much or as little as you like), and add 1 shot of vodka
  3. Fill the rest of the glass with Mott’s Clamato Juice (be sure to shake the bottle before you pour it)
  4. Add 3 drops of Tabasco (or more if you like it spicy) and 4 drops of Worcestershire
  5. Throw a celery stalk in the mix to stir it all up
  6. Enjoy!

Note #1: It takes about the same amount of effort to triple/quadruple/quintuple (you get the picture) this recipe for storage in the fridge until needed. This is highly recommended, as Caesars have a tendency to disappear from glasses very quickly.

Note #2: Some bartenders try to jazz their Caesars up by adding garnishes like pickled beans or pickled jalapeno. That’s all well and good, but a Caesar really needs nothing more than a celery stick to finish it off.

Note #3: If you aren’t into Tabasco, you can use horseradish instead. It makes the drink look a little weird, but it tastes amazing!

Not only do these Caesars look good, but they were made and consumed in the Westin Calgary

In researching this post, I made a visit to the Westin Calgary to not only take the images featured above, but also to sample a Caesar (or two) in the place where it was created. Having made stops in the past at places like The Guinness Storehouse (the birthplace of Guinness) and Pat O’Brien’s Bar in New Orleans (where the hurricane cocktail was invented), I know that tourist destinations like to capitalize on their famous beverages in order to woo thirsty travellers. And those thirsty travellers are happy to oblige such marketing tactics as long as they can sample the beverage being celebrated, and have the opportunity to buy a tacky t-shirt or shot glass.

In Calgary, however, this is not the case. All the Westin has to celebrate itself as being the Caesar’s birthplace is a small plaque and photo of Walter Chell (both are pictured above) tucked away in the corner of a room that looks nothing like the lounge its sign claims it is. Said ‘lounge’ doesn’t even have an actual bar where a Caesar could be mixed! How sad is that?! I’m fairly certain if the Caesar was invented in Toronto they’d have named a street after it by now. But alas, Calgary is a little too conservative for such ostentatious displays of revellry…unless it’s Stampede week, of course.

One thought on “All Hail Caesar!

  1. Pingback: Everyone Loves a Heritage Minute | Cultural Quirks

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