As proud as the average Canadian can be of maple syrup and poutine, Calgarians are quick to point out that our booming Albertan city is the home of the most popular cocktail in our great nation: the Caesar.
No, not the salad.
Since its conception in 1969, the sodium-ridden, tomato-based Calgary cocktail has soared to the top of the boozy charts in Canada, becoming one of this country's most notable drinks. No one's really sure why the beverage's popularity grew so rapidly, but it's estimated that more than 350 million Caesars are consumed by Canadians every year. That's approximately ten Caesars per person, per year—and if you took a poll in Calgary, that number would be significantly higher.
Calgary often gets labeled for being all "cowboy" and "steak and potatoes," but as a local, I think of it only as the birthplace of the drink that saves my life almost every Saturday morning. I'm not saying that the Stampede haze that cloaks this city every July isn't worth taking note of—teeming with delicious, barbecue-based gluttony, tons of whiskey, strapping cowboys and cowgirls, etc.—but without this Calgary cocktail, a 40-year-old local treasure, what would we be cheers-ing with? A Bloody Mary?
The man who poured this cocktail into existence, Walter Chell, was the bar manager of what is now The Westin hotel in downtown Calgary, and drew inspiration from a classic Italian pasta dish made of tomato sauce and clams. The basic formula for a Caesar is pretty straightforward: Clamato (sourced from various American cities like Seattle, Washington or Whitefish, Montana), Worcestershire, Tabasco, a variety of spices—typically salt, celery salt, and black pepper—and vodka. (The inclusion of clam juice is crucial, as it adds a robust, umami flavor that offers a lot more depth than its American cousin—the Bloody Mary.) And most importantly: some very serious garnishes.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make one at home, but Canadian bartenders have created variations on the classic continuously over the decades, putting spins on it by opting for a variety of ingredients like cucumber-infused gins, muddled herbs like basil or rosemary, and sometimes even fruit juices. The uninspired may finish off the cocktail by shoving a celery stalk in there, but any self-respecting Caesar lover knows that the garnish on this drink is just as—if not more—important than what you're sipping on. The decorations alone make this the Liberace of all Canadian cocktails. In some establishments, you can even eat an entire meal on top of your cocktail. Pickles, beans, and olives are pretty standard, but if you're lucky enough to find a pepperoni stick, bacon, a big chunk of smoked salmon, or even some fried chicken atop your tomato-y bevvy, then you're drinking this beverage as Walter Chell would have wanted you to.
God bless Canada.