The Caesar: The History of Canada’s Beloved Cocktail

It's been 50 years since the Caesar was invented in Calgary, Alberta.

Photo by shutterbugger/iStock


While some made-in-Cowtown claims, like ginger beef, are highly suspect, history confirms the cocktail had its beginnings at the Westin hotel (then the Calgary Inn) back in 1969 when bartender Walter Chell added a twist to the established Bloody Mary. The game changer? Clamato juice. Since ’69 predates Mott’s first sales of Clamato by about a year, imagine Chell mashing his own clams and probably juicing his own tomatoes to get just the right flavour.

The drink caught on like the fire it creates in your mouth and, 43-years later, it’s estimated Canadians consume 350 million Caesars made with Mott’s Clamato annually, about 12 to 13 a year for those of legal drinking age and older. It has become the country’s unofficial national cocktail.

What makes a good Caesar?

Since the drink is basically just Clam masking vodka, plus spice, glass rimmer and garnish, it comes down to those final three elements.

Everybody dashes in a couple drops of Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and lime juice, so the stand-out Caesars are those that raise the bar by adding a splash of balsamic vinegar or dollop of homemade horseradish. The heat should come on slowly after a sip; if your eyes water, you’ve gone too far. Celery salt rims, while traditional, are also rather boring considering the alternatives, such as ground-up crispy bacon or Montreal steak spice. Speaking of celery, no one really likes it as a garnish. Poor Chell had no choice back in 1969 as it was likely the only vegetable available in Canada year-round. Nowadays, you can try any number of pickled garnishes (okra, asparagus, green bean); meaty morsels (a bacon strip or pepperoni stick); or shellfish (a skewered clam or jumbo shrimp).

Recipe for Classic Caesar

1 oz vodka

2 dashes Tabasco sauce

3 dashes freshly ground salt and pepper

4 dashes worcestershire sauce

4 oz Mott’s Clamato cocktail

Combine all ingredients, and serve over ice in a highball glass rimmed with seasoning with a wedge of lime. Garnish with pickled veggie, bacon strip, skewered jumbo shrimp — be original!

[This article appears in the June 2012 issue of WestJet Magazine]