Friday, February 1, 2008

Drink of the Week: The Caesar, eh?

Earlier this week I was looking to see if I could find a sketch from the old Sid Caesar show, which spoofed DW Griffith’s "What Drink Did "as A Drunk There Was. I haven’t found the sketch yet but I stumbled upon the Caesar Cocktail, something I have never heard of before.
Some background from The Art of the Drink (the site that introduced me to the Caesar)

When someone says Caesar the first thing that might come to mind is a salad, or possibly and old dead Roman guy, but if you are in Canada you'll probably think cocktail. If you were to pick an official cocktail for Canada, the Caesar would be it. For some reason this cocktail is the most popular cocktail in Canada. It could be that it is a savory cocktail with nary a drop of sugar. It could be the multitude of garnishes that adorn this popular drink, some would even say it is a buffet atop the cocktail. It could be the spice, or the salt, or the overall combination. If you say it is just a Bloody Mary knockoff, you'd be short sighted. This may be a similar cocktail, but where the Bloody Mary is quiet and subdued, the Caesar is spicy and fun. Please note that it is not a Bloody Caesar, it is called a Caesar. The “bloody” part comes from a confusion with Miss Mary and doesn't belong in this cocktails title.

“The Bloody Caesar was invented in 1969 to celebrate the opening a Marco’s, a new restaurant in Calgary, Alberta. Bartender Walter Chell developed the original cocktail after three months of exploring different recipes. He came up with a spicy drink made of Clamato juice, vodka, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of oregano. It is Canada’s #1 selling cocktail, with more than 250 million sold each year.” The oregano has been replaced by Tabasco in most Caesars.

Now first I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of Caesars, but I've tried them, so I know what they taste like. But, if you like seafood and Italian cuisine, this is a drink you might very well enjoy. Hell, millions of Canadians enjoy them every week. On any Friday night behind the bar I make sure there are a few extra bottles of Motts Clamato in the fridge and a whole lot of extra Caesar garnishes. The Caesar seems to be the way to start off a weekend meal at a restaurant.

The fun part about the Caesar is that it lends itself to a boat load of garnishes. Originally celery and a lime were standard, but since the Caesar has become so popular, every restaurant felt a need to customize the garnish to make the drink unique. For example in some places you get pickles, olives, peppers, a spicy pickled bean, or pickled asparagus. Actually any type of vegetable works well and pickling it seems to up the flavour quotient. Even boiled sea creatures (shrimp) make an appearance in the garnish at certain restaurants. Some drinks look like an appetizer. If you find it in your crisper, you can probably put it in your Caesar.

The other part of the fun is that you can add different spices to the drink to spruce it up. Depending on the restaurant the additions to the Caesar are endless. Horseradish, in place of the Tabasco seems top be very popular, and wasabi is also pretty common. I've seen places add basil infused vodka and HP BBQ Sauce to sweeten the drink up a bit, and it goes really well with the tomato in the Clamato. The brine from pickles is often used and I've heard that it tastes like a McDonald's cheese burger, well at least the ketchup and pickle part of the burger. The latest addition to the list of condiments that goes in a Caesar is the White Wine Chicken Marinade (white wine worcestershire sauce) from Lea and Perrins. The base of this worcestershire is Sauternes and is actually quite tasty.

By all accounts, a well made Caesar is a great cocktail. It isn't tied to any traditional recipe, but follows a basic set of requirements, such as Clamato. Part of the fun is hitting different places to see what they've done to make their Caesar better. Every place is a surprise.

Canadians are weird. Incredibly bizarre. I'm not a fan of Bloody Marys either but I will try anything twice.

So here’s the Caesar Cocktail recipe

11⁄2 oz Vodka
3 Dashes Worcestershire Sauce
3 Dashes Tabasco
Salt & Pepper
Fill Clamato Juice

Line the rim of a glass with salt and pepper. Over ice, add vodka, fill with clamato juice, then add the remaining ingredients. Garnish with a celery stick.


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