What the heck is this Canadian obsession with clam juice anyway?
— Gordon Ingerson
This year we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, but we also celebrate another uniquely Canadian product: the Caesar.
Famously invented in 1969 by Walter Chell at the Calgary Inn (now the Westin Hotel) to celebrate the opening of a new restaurant. The Caesar has come to take on some uniquely Canadian dimensions, and nowhere celebrates it better than Alberta. From a standing start to today, when the estimate is over 350 million consumed annually (half of them in Western Canada) the Caesar is pretty much unknown outside the Great White North. But how better to survive a great white winter than hunkering down with a salty, spicy Bloody Caesar!? As far as we here at Dining Out know, the Caesar is the only drink nominated to be the National Drink of Canada – and people think we’re a nation of beer drinkers! In 2009 Calgary Mayor “Bronco” Bronconnier named May 13th as Caesar Day to mark the 40th anniversary of its invention, and we celebrate that to this day.
Variations have evolved over the decades, such as substituting gin, tequila or rum for the vodka, and one enterprising soul even doubled down on the Canadiana by rimming the glass with Timmy’s coffee grounds. Now that’s a tasty way to end up picking grounds out of your teeth! But as the founding Host Province of the Caesar, Alberta has been uniquely situated to take on the task of elevating Walter Chell’s sublime blend, and we present here five local takes on the bloody Bloody Caesar. Yes, that is the official title of this uniquely Canadian beverage – the Bloody Caesar. How appropriate.
Caesar by BLAKE
Starting in the Bow Valley, we have the Caesar by BLAKE from BLAKE Canmore. Chef Blake is entranced by the umame (balance of flavours) of the Caesar, and pursued the perfect blend of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy by incorporating his own Umame Ketchup into the mix. Using a local Peppercorn Gin distilled by Canmore’s RAW Distillery, they rim the glass with their own black Coal Salt, developed to honour the coal-mining history of Canmore, and a few of their favourite global-inspired secret ingredients. “We wanted our Caesar to pack a punch of flavour, but not be overly spicy, it had to be that perfect balance.” He believes that all the layers of flavour are why people love the drink and worked on it to come up with different ratios until he thought they had their ideal combination. Who knows, they may be right: they won Best Caesar in the Bow Valley, and are slated to take their tipple to the Calgary regional finals. Not bad for a restaurant that just opened this year!
Breakfast Caesar by Red’s on 4th
Moving into Calgary, and starting with breakfast (because what better way to get a little hair of the dog), we have the Breakfast Caesar by Red’s Diner.
It turns out that a long-time staff member was a fan of, and regular consumer of, Red’s Caesar. Over time she started playing with the recipe because, well, she could! Because of her experimentation it is rumoured that Red’s may have been the first establishment to incorporate first, pickled beans, and later, pickle juice into the Caesar. To this day they use house-made pickled beans and the juice from the same jar to make their Caesar. Now, such an assertion is bound to incite vigorous debate across the City, so we encourage you to belly up to your favourite bar, order your own Caesar, and ask your bartender if they use pickle juice, and if so, since when?
Caesar by Oxbow
Oxbow believes that what makes their Caesar different from other Caesars in the city is that the rim is coated in Montreal Steak Spice rather than salt. The Chef de Cuisine and maître d’ both have roots in Montreal so it was a natural for them. In addition they use house-made pickles and house-made beef jerky as the garnish, along with with the lime wheel, and a healthy amount of Worcestershire. Another distinguishing feature is that as an enticement to bring loyal Calgarians over to the clam side, for brunch they’re only $5. On the day we visited, the pickle they used was a classic dill, but sometimes they’ll throw a pickled pepper or pickled asparagus, or whatever pickles are rotating through their bar instead. The make their own jars of pickled produce, and so the Caesar garnishes rotate with what they have. We can’t really use the word “fresh” for their pickles, because we were informed some of the jars are put up for over five months before being opened. Now that’s commitment!
Signature Caesar by Modern Steak
For their Signature Caesar, Modern Steak wanted to keep it simple and stay true to the roots of this now-classic great drink. They use Jalapeño-infused Vodka for a little extra kick, which opens the bouquet with smoke and allows the flavour to be rounded out by jalapeño, allowing the liquor itself to add nuanced flavour. The second “secret” sauce is Walter’s Craft Caesar mix, an all natural product with no added artificial colours or flavour, gluten free and OceanWise recommended, that is significantly more expensive than the originator of the clam juice, Mott’s. Made in Canada it creates the exact fluidity and viscosity within the cocktail that Modern was looking for, and is worth the expense for them. Additionally, no Caesar is complete without some of your daily vegetable requirement so they add pickled asparagus for natural saltiness and then finish with citrus garnish on the rim for some zesty refreshment. They believe that for Caesars, it doesn’t have to be crazy, it just has to be good.
Caesar Diablo by Añejo
Añejo is a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar, so they switch some ingredients away from the classic Caesar. They use Tequila Blanco, for a start, and add a little house Sangrita, a mix of tomatoes, onions, cinnamon, agave, orange juice and spices. That provides a bit of a different kick when mixed with the Mott’s Clamato. They use habanero-infused lime juice to add a bit of spice, and add Maggi sauce to complement the Worcestershire. Finally they rim the glass with salted dried chili, and garnish with pickled jalapeño and a lime wedge. The process of development took about two years of evolution when the restaurant first opened, and the bar staff all contributed, after all, wouldn’t you? The recipe was finalized about three years ago and has stayed pretty stable since them. The added tomato flavour of the Sangrita is what distinguishes this recipe from the rest. Caesar, meet Bloody Mary. Mary, meet Bloody Caesar!
Now it’s your turn to go forth and experiment. After all Calgary has plenty variants on the Caesar… what’s your favourite?