The Caesar is arguably Canada’s most iconic cocktail, but did you know it was invented in Calgary?

The Caesar is a well-loved and reliable standard that will celebrate its 45th birthday next year. While more than one Calgary establishment claims to have invented the drink, a bartender by the name of Walter Chell at the Calgary Inn (now the downtown Westin Hotel) is most widely credited with its creation. Chell’s original version was made by mixing tomato and clam juice together, but the instant popularity of the drink lead to the creation of Mott’s pre-mixed “Clamato” product later the same year.

A basic Caesar consists of 1-2 ounces of vodka, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a few drops of hot sauce, and Clamato. Traditionally, it is served in a glass rimmed with celery salt and garnished with a stalk of celery. While the drink can be hard to find outside of Canada, the Caesar’s closest cousins are the American “Bloody Mary” (vodka and tomato juice), or the Mexican “Michelada” (extra spicy and made with beer).

There’s no denying that the Caesar is a classic, but how do we keep this cocktail exciting after so many years? Many of Calgary’s most popular bars and restaurants are keeping it real and honoring this homegrown hero, while breathing new life into fresh remixes and contemporary garnishes.

Here are my top 5 local new takes on the Caesar:

1. The Coup – The “Dick Tracy”

While this cocktail isn’t technically a Caesar, it captures the same flavour profile with the added bold tastes of smoked paprika and a smoked salt rim. The tomato juice base makes this gin cocktail vegetarian/vegan friendly, while the well-balanced seasonings maintain the briny flavour of Clamato. This is a to-die-for, must try for any Caesar fan!

2. Mango Shiva – The “Tandoori Caesar”

This well-loved Indian restaurant puts an exotic twist on a classic by adding a pop of Indian spices. This may sound like an unconventional pairing, but the spice and lemony acidity of tandoori seasoning lends itself very well to a tomato base (which many curries have). Ease into a weekend afternoon by enjoying this with a meal from the restaurant’s fabulous brunch menu.

3. Local (Stephen Avenue) – “El Caesar”

This Caesar is so Calgary that they serve it in a cowboy boot! The drink is a well-made version of the classic which delivers great flavour without being over-seasoned. The real treat on this tall order is the garnish – lackluster celery is swapped out for a pepperoni stick, pickled bean, and giant stuffed olive. This drink is living proof that the Caesar really is the perfect liquid lunch!

4. National Beer Hall – The “National Caesar” 

As the name suggests, National is a celebration of beer, and their Caesar is no exception. National continues the trend of raising the garnish bar with a chorizo and cheddar cheese skewer, while keeping flavour amped up with all the classic seasonings and a horseradish kick. Vodka doesn’t get to steal the show in this cocktail though; the bitter splash of an India Pale Ale rounds out the flavours nicely.

5. Your House – The “Homemade Hero”

You don’t have to be a skilled mixologist to create a delicious and personal twist on this cocktail at home. First – try ditching the vodka – many other liquors make for a great variation on this drink (gin is one of my favourites). Opt for trading the traditional celery salt rim for a custom blend using complimentary flavors like steak spice, paprika, granulated onion or garlic, or gourmet salts. Brighten up your Clamato with some acidity from fresh lemon or lime juice, or make it “dirty” with a dash of olive or pickle brine. You can also take your Worcestershire sauce up a notch (or swap it out entirely) with a dash of balsamic or malt vinegar. Like it spicy? There is an endless assortment of distinct hot sauces to play with, or try some horseradish (fresh grated or jarred) to create a hot kick. Make your version a distinctive star of the party by adding in a gourmet ingredient like celery bitters (buy them at Silk Road Spice Merchant), or something unexpected, like spicy kimchi. Don’t forget the garnish – bacon, beef jerky, picked carrot – make it memorable!

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