“Caesars taste like home,” said Christian McPhee, 45, who lives in Toronto and does information technology work in the financial industry. “It’s like comfort food for Canadians. For as long as I can remember, Caesars have been a part of my family’s get-togethers. My grandmother was the first I remember in my family always having them. My family had them at every beach bonfire, Canada Day celebration, long weekend and Sunday brunch.”
“They’ve always been there,” he added.
Well, not quite always. The generally accepted history is that the drink was invented in 1969 in Calgary, Alberta, by a restaurant manager named Walter Chell. (There is, however, evidence of similar clam-and-tomato-juice drinks that predate it. The drink’s most obvious antecedent is the Bloody Mary, which has a longer history, though the Canadians interviewed for this article tend to think of that American favorite as a poor and distinctly less tasty relation.)
The Caesar took off, and, with it rose the fortunes of Mott’s Clamato, which was introduced in the late 1960s. Though most Clamato is produced in the United States, one-third of its North American sales are in Canada. Most of that is poured into Caesars, according to Mott’s.
Unlike the Bloody Mary, the Caesar isn’t consigned to the morning hours. “In Canada, anytime is a good time to drink a Caesar,” said Darcy O’Neil, a cocktail writer and former bartender who lives in London, Ontario. (And don’t call them Bloody Caesars, as many Americans do. Rookie mistake.)
Though the Caesar has long been popular, there are signs of a recent jump in consumption.
“When I first started bartending, it was few and far between that people ordered a Caesar,” said London Richard, 32, a Calgary bartender with 14 years of experience. “Over the last eight years, it became huge. I think people started realizing there’s so much potential behind it. It’s such a versatile cocktail. There are a million possibilities.”
Mr. Richard lets that potential run wild at Sorso, a restaurant near Calgary where he is an owner. He offers a “Caesar bar” that allows customers to select which spirits, spices and garnishes go into their drinks.
Mott’s has encouraged that creativity by introducing additional Clamato flavors; Pickled Bean came out last year. There are also competing tomato-clam juices on the market, including Walter Craft Caesar Mix, which labels itself as an “all-natural” and “artisanal,” and Simp’s Serious Caesar Mix, which is vegan.
So far, however, all this enthusiasm has stopped at the United States border. The Caesar stubbornly remains a Canadian phenomenon.
“We assume everyone knows and loves Caesars,” Mr. McPhee said. “It’s not until you leave Canada that you realize no one else knows what they are.”
Recipe: Caesar Cocktail