All Hail Caesar! Canada’s National Cocktail

Written by Darin Cook

Falling on the third Thursday in May, National Caesar Day kicks off the May Two-Four long weekend. For Canadians, this is the unofficial beginning of summer, and the Caesar has become our most beloved and patriotic cocktail. Canadian restaurant manager Walter Chell is credited for inventing the Caesar in 1969, at an Italian restaurant in Calgary. Mimicking the flavours of an Italian dish (spaghetti vongole), he mixed his own clam broth and tomato juice to create this uniquely Canadian elixir. Shortly afterwards (as it quickly became a favourite national drink), Mott’s came out with a bottled version of the Clamato cocktail for easier mixing of Caesars at home and in bars. And the rest is history.

in 1969 Canadian Walter Chell mixed the first Caesar

Made By You

Rimming: Circular tins with pre-mixed celery salt and other spices are available to rim the glass. (A very good one is from Cured Spice Co. in Price Edward County, which blends in smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, lime zest, and wood smoke).

Rub the rim of a highball glass with a wedge of lime.

Dip the rim into the container to coat the lip of the glass with the spice mixture.

Ice: Drop five or six ice cubes into the glass after rimming. A variation is to make ice cubes with clamato juice, to prevent the Caesar from getting watered down once the ice starts melting. This is a personal preference and I don’t mind when regular ice cubes thin out the juice after a while.

Mixing the Drink: It’s best to add the core ingredients into the glass using the 1-2-3-4-5 model:

1 oz. of vodka
2 dashes of hot sauce
3 dashes each of salt and pepper
4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
5 oz. of clamato juice 

The hot sauce can be revisited at the end, to adjust to preferred levels of spiciness.

For those who like to break from tradition slightly, adding a pinch of horseradish or tablespoon of pickle brine provides another kick of flavour.

Garnish: Creativity seems to be expected for accessorizing a Caesar. The garnishes can be a visual adornment or a light snack, and range from the classic (celery stalks, pickles, olives), to the more adventurous (pickled asparagus, banana peppers, beef jerky), to bordering-on-an-appetizer (lobster claws, chicken wings, spring rolls).

On the rim, next to the garnish, add a lime wedge for squeezing in just before drinking.

Made For You

When looking for a great Caesar to be made for you, it is best to belly up to the bar at Los Lobos (or any of Justin and Gregg Wolfe’s London restaurants). This team of brothers approaches cocktails with a culinary eye and they take Caesars very seriously, with an in-house spice mixture that goes in the drink and on the rim. They mix a Caesar that has such robustness and texture from the added spices that it tastes like the juice has been squeezed from fresh tomatoes (harking back to Chell’s version from 1969). Even though they do not add their own clam broth (who would, with the convenience of Mott’s bottled version?), their attention to fresh seasonings provides a balance between the piquancy of the spices and the sweetness of the juice, and make it taste and feel like it was made from scratch — a testament to true cocktail mixing. It is garnished with a skewer of olive and pickled pepper bookended between lemon and lime wedges.

For Something Completely Different, Yet Similar …

Other cocktails at Los Lobos include a range of unique Margaritas, but a detour from the tequila side of the menu will lead you to a drink called Michelada. After I had enjoyed a traditional Caesar, our waitress asked if I wanted to try one. “It’s the Mexican version of a Caesar, made with beer,” she assured me.

Eatdrink’s intrepid writer Darin Cook works hard for a story. Here he samples a Michelada, at Los Lobos in London.

“It’s made with Clamato juice, vodka, and beer?” I enquired.

“No, just beer,” she said.

I was unfamiliar with this drink and I was confused, yet intrigued, and decided to try it instead of asking more questions. Taking the lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and the same spices from a Caesar, Los Lobos’ bartender concocts this Mexican speciality by adding it to Lug Tread (organic lager from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company). This is not a pure invention by Los Lobos, but rather a riff on a traditional Mexican drink. The added savoury depth of the in-house Caesar mixture deliciously complements the Mexican menu, while slyly giving a nod to Canada’s national drink.

About the author

Darin Cook

Darin Cook is a freelance writer based out of Chatham. He keeps himself well-read and well-fed by visiting the bookstores and restaurants of London.