Many Canadians take pride in our country’s official cocktail, the Caesar, even though it may have been inspired by an Italian dish. With this in mind, the Calgary Journal and Cannibale, a local barbershop and cocktail bar, teamed up to come up with four variations following the same preparation rules, based on four different cuisines in Canada.

The Caesar was invented here in Calgary. According to Tourism Calgary, many incorrectly assume that happened at Caesar’s Steak House. But Mott’s — which makes the Clamato juice that’s such a vital part of the drink — states the Caesar was actually invented in 1969 by a man named Walter Chell. He created the cocktail for the opening of an Italian restaurant called Marco’s, located inside the Calgary Inn, which is now known as the Westin Hotel.

Chell dubbed his creation, the Bloody Caesar. It’s similar to the Bloody Mary. But what sets it apart is the inclusion of clam juice, which Chell claimed was inspired by his favourite Italian dish, spaghetti alle vongole (tomato sauce spaghetti with clams).

For his own part, Ian Arcega, an instructor at Calgary’s Metropolitan School of Bartending, believes the Caesar’s origin story is, well, bogus.

Arcega explained there is actually a second story to how the Caesar was invented.

“Throughout the years of working in the industry, you start to hear a different side of the story, from kitchen managers and prep cooks. Around the same time, at the same restaurant, there was a prep cook who screwed up the clam chowder recipe.”

According to Arcega, the cook wanted to preserve as much of the meal as he could. So “he used a colander to separate it [the liquid] from the soup, and he was left with eight buckets of clam juice soup, which they ended up selling as bloody mary mix.”

“Having gone to Italy myself, the tomato and clam is not something they would put in their drinks, ever! You would likely find more Prosecco or wine flavors,” said Arcega, pointing out another reason why Chell’s story is, in his opinion, implausible.

When Arcega teaches his students how to make a proper Caesar, he begins by telling them these two stories. Those who have experience in the service industry, they tend to believe the latter tale.

Regardless of who actually invented the Caesar, the cocktail grew in popularity across Canada, so much so that in 2009, the Canadian Parliament even went as far as to declare it Canada’s official cocktail. That declaration was all thanks to the guys at Mott’s Clamato, of course, who began a petition hoping to get proper acknowledgment for the drink. At the time, the CBC quoted the company’s vice-president Andy Bayfield saying, “We want to see it get recognized and in its place among those truly intrinsic Canadian things.”

According to the Mott’s Clamato website, around 407 million Caesars are consumed in Canada each year. There’s even a National Caesar Day, which started in 2015 thanks to Canada’s Iceberg vodka. The company even launched a National Caesar Day website to promote the event, which takes place on the Thursday before the May long weekend.

Canadians also organize Caesar competitions, with the most popular one hosted by Mott’s Clamato. They add ridiculous toppings to turn the already hearty drink into what could then be considered a meal. And they make their foreign friends or family try the cocktail when they come to visit – though many find it is ‘too spicy’ or react in a way similar to ‘gross, I don’t want to drink clam juice!’

To help those celebrations, the Calgary Journal reached out to Cannibale to come up with four recipe variations of the Caesar based on prominent cuisines in Canada. 

The original Caesar

The classic Caesar is made out of a Clamato base and a mix of tomato and clam juice. It follows the one, two, three, four rule of preparation, (one ounce of vodka, two dashes of Tabasco sauce, three dashes of salt and pepper and four dashes of Worcestershire sauce).

According to Arcega, when making a Caesar, it is crucial to always add all of your ingredients over ice before adding the base. Additionally, it is important to make sure you always stir before serving.

With this understanding, we took the “one, two, three, four,” rule and used it to create taste variants by changing the alcohol, spice, seasoning, or savory components in the drink.

Merrick Milne, a bartender at Cannibale, explained he was intrigued when approached by the Calgary Journal for collaboration.

“I thought it was going to be interesting creating a twist on a cocktail that has very unique flavors, especially making several along the same lines,” said Milne.

He added many suggestions to the recipes that only a long time cocktail maker could come up with.

“Any themed party would be amazing to use these cocktails. A lot of these cocktails use juices as well. So having the option of fresh juice over store-bought clamato would be a good push to try these cocktails.”

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 2 Dashes hot sauce
  • 4 Dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 Grinds fresh cracked salt and pepper
  • 4 oz. clamato juice

Rimmer

  • Celery salt

Garnish

  • Celery stalk or lime wedge

Recipe

Rim a highball glass with citrus and the rimmer. Fill the glass to the top with ice. Add the ingredients in the order listed. Stir well to mix the cocktail, and garnish.

Truly “Canadian”

We might not know whether or not the traditional Caesar is based on an Italian dish. What we do know is, without the Caesar, spicy tomato juice and clam broth are not something we would associate with Canadian cuisine. 

So, for this Caesar, we made sure to incorporate the first foods or flavor profiles that come to mind when you think of Canada: from maple syrup to Canadian rye.  

Acknowledging the fact the Calgary Journal is situated on the traditional Blackfoot territory, we also wanted flavors from Indigenous cuisine to be present within this drink as well. With the addition of Saskatoon berry syrup and beef jerky topping, the Canadian cocktail mixes light flavors with a hint of nostalgia, leaving you feeling refreshed and satisfied.  

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Canadian rye (of your choosing)
  • 2 Dashes vinegar-based hot sauce
  • 3 Dashes cayenne pepper
  • 4 tbs. Saskatoon berry syrup 
  • 1 Lemon
  • 4 Hibiscus tea bags

Rim

  • Maple syrup 
  • Freeze-dried berries
  • Topped with beef jerky

Recipe

Begin by steeping four hibiscus tea bags in about a litre of hot water until it reaches room temperature. Then, remove the bags and put the tea into the fridge to make it nice and cold. 

Pour a bit of maple syrup onto a plate and the freeze-dried berries onto a separate plate. Crush the freeze-dried berries with a muddler or the bottom of your service glass. 

Dip the rim of the glass into the maple syrup and then immediately into the freeze-dried berries, making sure to move the glass around in a circular motion so that it is evenly covered.

Once you have created your rim, fill the glass with ice then add the rye, vinegar-based hot sauce, cayenne pepper and Saskatoon berry syrup.

Finish by filling the glass with the cold tea and stir to combine. Top it off with Saskatoon berries, a piece of beef jerky, a lemon wedge and serve. 

Indian Cuisine

Each ingredient in this Indian cuisine-inspired cocktail is used to compliment the next, creating an aroma that awakens our taste buds and prepares them to get smacked with a mouth full of flavor. Masala chili sauce and curry powder help tickle the nose as we dive in for our first sip. The addition of gin was a must, as many of the herbs used to make that alcohol — such as juniper and coriander — are used in Indian cuisine. Mango juice, along with a hint of coconut milk, is used as the base to imitate the richness and density found within each bite of curry, resulting in what could be considered a “smoothie-esque” cocktail.   

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Gin
  • 2 Dashes masala chili sauce
  • 3 Pinches masala curry powder
  • 4 tbs. Coconut milk
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 Can mango juice

Rim

  • Coconut flakes (thin)
  • 1 Lime
  • Topped with veggie samosa

Recipe

Begin by pouring coconut flakes onto a small plate. Rim the glass by first dipping it into lime juice or using a wedge around the rim, then swirling it around into the coconut flakes until evenly covered. 

Next, pour gin, masala chili sauce, curry powder, coconut milk and mango juice into a shaker glass, add some ice and shake intensely for about 30 seconds. 

Add ice into the serving glass and strain the shaken contents into it. Top it off with a veggie samosa and a lime wedge. Enjoy. 

Note: It is normal for the coconut milk and mango juice to look thick, and have some slight clumps. By shaking the mixture, we remove these characteristics. A strainer can also be used to lighten the drink. Substitute coconut milk with coconut water for a lighter variation. 

Polish Cuisine

Polish cuisine tends to be made up of hearty and heavy dishes that people might want to eat after a long day of skiing while warming up by a fire. This cocktail brings out the cuisine’s earthy tones by using a beet juice base. The slight heat from the cayenne pepper and ginger juice round out the sweetness of the beets. And the black currant syrup balances out the drink. Each sip makes you feel more at ease, especially considering the natural vitamins found within pure beet juice. 

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Vodka
  • 2 oz. Ginger juice (can substitute for orange juice)
  • 3 Dashes cayenne pepper (can be substituted by a pinch of fresh horseradish) 
  • 4 tbs. Black currant syrup (Ribena)
  • Topped with Beet juice

Rim

  • 1 Lime
  • 2 tsp. Citric acid
  • 2 tbsp. Orange zest
  • Topped with dried apricot and a slice of kielbasa (Polish sausage)

Recipe

On a small plate, mix the orange zest with the citric acid. Use a lime wedge or juice to wet the rim of your glass. Then, dip the glass into the mixture until evenly coated.

Fill the glass with ice then add vodka, pure ginger juice, cayenne pepper and black currant syrup. Fill the remainder of the glass with pure beet juice and stir. Drink after topping it all off with a slice of kielbasa (Polish sausage), dried apricot and a lemon wedge. 

Note: Substitute the beet juice for black cherry juice, and use the beet juice instead of the black currant syrup, to remove some of the earthy notes and to sweeten the cocktail.

Portuguese Cuisine

Pineapples aren’t traditionally part of Portuguese cuisine, which includes more than 200 different types of pastries. But they have become a major part of the economy, being grown on the Portuguese island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. The pineapples are described by many tourists and greenhouse websites as being unique because of their intense flavor and small crown. So we incorporated the juice of pineapples into this Caesar recipe, along with the addition of the port wine. It also highlights traditional spices, such as peri peri, in what could be described as a sangr-aesar (Sangria Caesar). 

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. Port (we used Taylor Fladgate [vintage port]) 
  • 2 Dashes peri peri hot sauce
  • 3 Dashes peri peri seasoning
  • 4 Small dashes apple cider vinegar
  • Topped with Pineapple juice

Rim

  • 1 Lime 
  • 1 tbs. Cumin
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1tbs Peri peri seasoning
  • Topped with rolled ham

Recipe

Mix cumin and peri peri seasoning with cinnamon onto a small plate. Grab your desired glass and wet the rim with fresh lime juice or a lime wedge, then, dip the rim into the seasoning until it is evenly coated. 

Fill the glass with ice, then pour the port into the glass, adding peri peri hot sauce, peri peri seasoning and apple cider vinegar. 

Add the pineapple juice as desired, or until the glass is full and stir. Top it all off with a lime wedge and a rolled-up slice of ham, and serve. 

Tip: To make sure you don’t pour too much apple cider vinegar into the drink, use your thumb to cover up most of the opening of the bottle and move your hand in quick spurts. 

Note: Pineapple juice is also an easy substitution in a Caesar for those who do not enjoy Clamato. 

This story is part of our March-April print issue. Check out the digital version here or grab a copy at newsstands across the city.

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Editor: Nathan Woolridge | nwoolridge@cjournal.ca