When someone says Caesar the first thing that might come to mind is a salad, or possibly an old dead Roman, but if you are in Canada, you will probably think cocktail. If you were to pick an official cocktail for Canada, the Caesar would be it. For some reason, this cocktail is the most popular cocktail in Canada. It could be the savory quality with nary a drop of added sugar that makes it popular. It could be the multitude of garnishes that adorn this drink; some would even say it is a buffet. It could be the spice, or the salt, or the overall combination. If you say it is just a Bloody Mary knockoff, you’d be short sighted. This may be a similar drink, but where the Bloody Mary is quiet and subdued, the Caesar is spicy and fun.
“The Bloody Caesar was invented in 1969 to celebrate the opening a Marco’s, a new restaurant in Calgary, Alberta. Bartender Walter Chell developed the original cocktail after three months of exploring different recipes. He came up with a spicy drink made of Clamato juice, vodka, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of oregano. It is Canada’s #1 selling cocktail, with more than 250 million sold each year.” The oregano has been replaced by Tabasco in most Caesars.
First, I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of Caesars, I’ve tried them, so I know what they taste like. If you like seafood and Italian cuisine, this is a drink you might very well enjoy. Hell, millions of Canadians enjoy them every week. On any Friday night behind the bar, I make sure there are a few extra bottles of Mott’s Clamato in the fridge and a whole lot of extra Caesar garnishes. The Caesar seems to be the way to start off a weekend meal at a restaurant. Unlike a Bloody Mary, which is considered a brunch drink, the Caesar can be ordered anytime.
The fun part about the Caesar is that it lends itself to a boat load of garnishes. Celery and a lime wedge are traditional, but since the Caesar has become so popular, every restaurant felt a need to customize the garnish to make their version unique. For example, in some places, you get pickles, olives, peppers, a spicy pickled bean, or pickled asparagus. Any vegetable works well and pickling it seems to up the flavour quotient. Even boiled sea creatures (shrimp) make an appearance in the garnish at certain restaurants. Some drinks look like an appetizer. If you find it in your crisper, you can probably put it in your Caesar.
Part of the fun is that you can add different spices to the drink to spruce it up. Depending on the restaurant the additions to the Caesar are endless. Horseradish in place of the Tabasco seems to be very popular, and wasabi is also pretty standard. I’ve seen places add basil infused vodka and HP BBQ Sauce to sweeten the drink up a bit, and it goes well with the tomato in the Clamato. The brine from pickles is often used, and I’ve heard that it tastes like a McDonald’s cheeseburger, well, at least, the ketchup and pickle part of the burger. The latest addition to the list of condiments that goes in a Caesar is the White Wine Chicken Marinade (white wine Worcestershire sauce) from Lea and Perrins. The base of this Worcestershire is Sauternes and is quite tasty.
By all accounts, a well made Caesar is a great cocktail. It isn’t tied to any traditional recipe but follows a basic set of requirements, such as Clamato and vodka. Part of the fun is hitting different places to see what they’ve done to make their Caesar better. Every place is a surprise.