Its not a Bloody Mary, it’s a Caesar. And to say that Canadians are obsessed with Caesars may be an understatement. It’s estimated that people in Canada drink 400 million Caesars per year. In a country with under 40 million residents, that’s a lot of Sunday morning hangovers that are being cured.
The sweet and spicy, tangy and bitter blends of clamato and vodka taste keeps Canadians coming back for more and even bringing the mix when they go overseas.
When asked why they call a Bloody Mary a “Caesar” many Canadians will explain that they aren’t the same thing: they’re better.
But this is when the conversation gets tricky. Caesars are indeed similar to Bloody Marys. Their base being vodka and tomato juice. But Caesars ramp things up with extra spices and clam juice.
This is usually when Americans and British tourists alike comment, “Clam juice?” with polite disgust.
But it’s not like anyone is juicing clams in the back of every Canadian bar. “It doesn’t taste like clam juice,” Canadians will respond, exasperated.
The Flavors of Caesars
Caesars are smooth except for the often spicy kick of hot sauce that’s mixed in. It is difficult to explain but simple once you taste it. Somehow when you top vodka with mixed tomato and clam juice, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and pepper, you get an umami effect.
You know umami, the fifth basic taste often described as savory or a depth of flavor. The word literally means “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese. Tomato and clams happen to be one of the best umami foods, so mixing them together intensifies the balance of sweet, salty, and tangy. So, it is a disservice to the beverage to call it “Bloody Mary” with clam juice because the flavor is much more complicated.
If you’re still confused about the clam juice part (how do you juice a clam?), the typical mixer is made with water from boiled clams. So even plain clam juice doesn’t contain any actual clam; it’s more of a by-product.
And it’s not just the umami flavor that makes Caesar’s different. They are spicier, and their consistency thinner than their popular American counterpart. When you sip one, the first flavors are the spice, then the tang, and finally the salty. If you aren’t a fan of the tomato-like flavor of Bloody Mary’s, you might still enjoy Caesars since the tomato flavor is much less pungent in this mix.
Walter Chell, the Creator of the Caesar
Caesars, rarely called Bloody Caesars, were created in “Cow Town,” the home of the world’s largest outdoor rodeo. Calgary, Alberta, Canada is known for many things, but being the home of Canada’s favorite drink is something they are certainly proud of.
The drink was first consumed in 1969. Although there were similar beverages to a Caesar created before by individual bars, none of them took off. That was until Walter Chell, the manager of the formerly named Calgary Hotel, set out to make a signature cocktail for his new Italian restaurant. He wanted it to showcase the unique flavors of Italian cuisine.
He mixed clam and tomato juice with vodka, adding a dash of Worcestershire sauce and spices. The clam inspiration? It came from Venice spaghetti alle vongole, literally, “spaghetti with clams,” a pasta dish with tomato sauce featuring clams.
Chell experimented with the flavors, actually mashing clams to make his own juice for some of the original recipes. After a few months he had created something delicious, at least his customers thought so.
The name Caesar hailed to the Italian inspiration of the beverage. The bloody part might be credited to a British man, who upon tasting one of the earliest concoctions exclaimed, “That’s a damn good bloody Caesar!”
Mott’s: the Original Clamato
By pure coincidence, Mott’s company was developing their own mix of clam and tomato juice. It hit the store shelves in the late ’60s.
Mott’s claimed the drink was inspired by what many Latinos in Mexico and the US would consume while working on the fields. “The farmers were the first ones to appreciate Clamato juice’s refreshing flavor when they realized how it made their long, hard days in the sun much more tolerable,” the brand explained.
Mott’s, however, received underwhelming sales its first years. This was without the company knowing about the popular Caesar beverage north of the border.
When distributors from Mott’s discovered the Canadian Bloody Mary, the sales of the tomato/clam juice took off. Suddenly they had an eager consumer, who had tasted Caesar’s while in western Canada and wanted to make the beverage themselves.
Today it’s estimated that 70% of Mott’s Clamato sales were sold to Canadians to make this drink.
How to Drink a Caesar
Unlike the Bloody Mary, which is often served exclusively for brunch to nurse the previous night’s hangover, Canadians enjoy Caesars at any time of the day. But like the Bloody Mary, it is a conventionally approved vodka drink with breakfast as well.
In 2010, Caesars were named the national drink of Canada. In 2019, Calgary hosted the first-ever Caesar festival, with music, tastings, and food pairings.
Caesars are adaptable. Don’t have vodka? Make it with gin or tequila. Love spice and new things? According to the Caesar festival, Jägermeister and clamato are also a great mix. Don’t have hard liquor? Mix it with wine instead.
Can you see a trend? Canadians honestly just love the flavors of clamato mixed with anything.
Garnishes can be as simple as a celery stick and lime with a celery salt rim to lobster tails, bacon, and a entire mini-meals. There are some spectacular Caesar creations out there, and the Caesar Festival is one of the best times to see them.
And, if you still think clamato juice sounds weird mixed with vodka, Canadians aren’t the only ones who will disagree with you. Mixing clamato with beer is a popular version of a Caesar in Canada but popular in Mexico and the US. The drink is called a michelada. Beer is mixed with lime, spices, tomato juices, and chili, and sometimes clamato.
So, the next time you’re in Canada, order a Caesar. Not only will you differentiate yourself from other tourists, but you might also be pleasantly surprised.