The Caesar, also known as the Bloody Caesar, is considered Canada’s national cocktail. The key ingredients are vodka, clam juice, tomato juice, spices and Worcestershire sauce. It is typically served in a highball glass rimmed with celery salt and garnished with a celery stalk, olives and lime. Food and beverage worker Walter Chell invented the Caesar in Calgary, Alberta, in 1969. Since then, the drink’s popularity and origin have made it a national cultural icon. Canadians drink more than 400 million Caesars annually. However, it has not achieved significant reach beyond Canada.
Drinks with similar ingredients as the Caesar date back to the early 20th century. The Bloody Mary is one example, although it is not made with clam juice or broth. Several cocktails made with vodka, tomato juice and clam juice have been documented after the 1950s. Some of these cocktails — such as the Smirnoff Smiler, the Gravel Gertie and the Clamdigger — include Worcestershire sauce or Tabasco sauce. The trademarked Clamdigger was marketed with Lord Mott’s Clamato, a tomato and clam juice blend. Mott’s Clamato products are typically used in Caesar cocktails today.
Walter Chell invented the Caesar cocktail in 1969. The Calgary Inn asked Chell to craft a cocktail to celebrate the opening of its new Italian restaurant, Marco’s. Chell spent about three months formulating the drink. He drew inspiration from spaghetti alle vongole, a pasta dish made with clams. Chell mashed clams to produce “clam nectar” and mixed it with tomato juice and spices. The final formulation included vodka, tomato juice, clam nectar, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt. In 1994, Chell told the Toronto Star his secret ingredient was a dash of oregano. He also said he did not include Tabasco sauce.
Chell originally named the drink the Caesar. He told the Star his customers would sample different versions of the cocktail. One Englishman tried the Caesar and said, “Walter, that’s a damn good bloody Caesar.” After this incident, Chell said he called the drink the Bloody Caesar.
Rise in Popularity
Within a few years, the Bloody Caesar cocktail was a favourite around Calgary. It sold especially well as a lunchtime drink. The Caesar’s popularity then spread eastward from Western Canada. In 2006, the cocktail was ranked No. 13 on the CBC TV series The Greatest Canadian Invention. (See also Inventors and Innovations.)
In 2009, Calgary’s mayor, David Bronconnier, declared 13 May Caesar Day for the cocktail’s 40th anniversary. That same year, Canada Dry Mott’s launched an online petition to make the Caesar the official cocktail of Canada. An Ipsos-Reid poll in 2009 found the Caesar to be Canada’s most popular cocktail. Canadian residents drink more than 400 million Caesars annually. However, the cocktail has not achieved a significant reach beyond Canada.
National Caesar Day is celebrated on the Thursday before the Victoria Day long weekend every May. The Caesar also has a reputation as a hangover “cure.” However, this claim has not been scientifically proven.
Customization and experimentation are at the heart of many Caesar-based recipes. Every year, Mott’s Clamato hosts the Best Caesar in Town competition. Bartenders from each province craft their own spins on the cocktail. One bartender from each province is selected as a winner. Past winners have experimented with ingredients, garnishes and glasses. Sliders, seafood and pineapples have all featured in winning entries. Some pubs and restaurants offer build-your-own-Caesar bars. These allow customers to assemble the ingredients, garnishes and rimmers to their liking. Such establishments include the Pogue Mahone in Toronto, Ontario, and the Beltliner in Calgary.
The Caesar is also celebrated with Caesar Fests and Caesar crawls. Mott’s Clamato is involved with National Caesar Day celebrations at bars and restaurants across Canada. The company has also hosted the Coast-to-Coast Toast, where guests nationwide tune
into a live broadcast and toast the drink together.
At one time, the Toronto Institute of Bartending ran a “Caesar School.” Students in these sessions learned the history and process behind the cocktail. The class also covered selecting garnishes and experimenting with different spirits.
In 2019, Saskatchewan’s Last Mountain Distillery mixed a 750 L Caesar cocktail. The drink contained 312 bottles of Mott’s Clamato, 20 bottles of lime juice and 18 bottles of Worcestershire sauce. This Caesar surpassed the previous Guinness World Record for the largest Bloody Mary or Caesar cocktail (588 L) set by the Ontario Plowmen’s Association and Highbury Canco in 2018.
Here is Mott’s Clamato’s Classic Caesar recipe, which it attributes to Walter Chell, “where it all began.”
- 1 oz (30 ml) vodka
- 2 dashes hot sauce
- 4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 3 dashes salt and pepper
- 4 oz (120 ml) Mott’s Clamato Original Cocktail or other Caesar mix
- 1 stalk of celery
- Lime wedges
- Celery salt
- Rim a highball glass with citrus and rimmer of choice
- Fill the glass to the top with ice
- Add in the vodka, hot sauce, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and Caesar mix
- Stir well to mix the cocktail
- Garnish the cocktail
Len Fragomeni, dean of Mott’s Clamato Caesar School and the founder of the Toronto Institute of Bartending, recommends using a technique called “rolling.” It involves mixing the drink by pouring it back and forth between two glasses.
Mott’s Clamato Caesar mixes are frequently used to make Caesars. The same year Chell debuted the Caesar, the Duffy Mott Company patented Mott’s Clamato canned juice. Later, other companies released their own Caesar mixes. The Walter Caesar Mix is gluten-free and has an Ocean Wise sustainability certification. Simp’s Serious Caesar Mix offers a mix for gluten-free and vegan drinkers.
Many Caesar cocktail variations exist. Some have used sriracha sauce, hoisin sauce, beef stock, tandoori, jerk spice, strawberries, or maple-flavoured BBQ sauce. Others have garnished their cocktails with grilled corn, steamed clams, maki, or cinnamon sticks. Tim Hortons coffee grounds have been used as a Caesar rimmer. The vodka can be replaced with other spirits. A beer-based Caesar cocktail is known as a Clam Eye.