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Clams, Tomatoes, and Vodka Walk into a Calgary Bar: The Birth of Canada’s Caesar

It takes a special kind of courage to combine clams, tomatoes, and vodka in one glass and call it a drink

Pour yourself a drink as we take a trip back in time and explore the origins of the Caesar, Canada’s most beloved mixed drink.

For those of us in Alberta, we don’t have to travel far. 

Walter Chell, the creator of Canada's national mixed drink, the Caesar | The Globe And Mail
Walter Chell, the creator of Canada’s national mixed drink, the Caesar | The Globe And Mail

The popular alcoholic drink was concocted by food and beverage worker Walter Chell in Calgary in 1969.

At the time, Chell worked as a restaurant manager for the Calgary Inn, now the Westin Hotel

He was asked to create an original drink to celebrate the opening of a new Italian restaurant in the Calgary Inn called Marco’s

Originally from Italy, there was no one better suited for the job than Chell. 

He tapped into his roots and took inspiration from an Italian dish served in Venice called Spaghetti alle vongole.

Spaghetti vongole is a classic Italian dish that literally translates to spaghetti with clams. As the name suggests, the dish is made with clams and tomato sauce. 

But turning a pasta dish into a mixed drink is easier said than done. 

Chell spent three months experimenting before getting the salt on the rim.

Spaghetti alle vongole | TasteAtlas

Chell started by mashing clams to produce “clam nectar,” or clam juice. He combined the clam juice with tomato juice and spices.

The final product included clam juice, tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, and a secret ingredient.

In 1994, a few years before his passing, Chell revealed his secret ingredient: a dash of oregano

Chell originally named his drink “the Caesar.” But after an Englishman tried his drink and exclaimed, “Walter, that’s a damn good bloody Caesar,” Chell went on to call the drink the Bloody Caesar

However, Bloody Caesar was eventually shortened to Caesar by fans of the drink. 

Little did Chell know, his creation would withstand the test of time and become Canada’s national cocktail! 

A Cocktail For The Country

Within five years of its creation, the Caesar became Calgary’s most famous mixed drink. But the popularity of Chell’s drink didn’t stop in Calgary. 

In 2009, Mott’s, makers of Mott’s Clamato juice, petitioned Parliament to have the drink named Canada’s official mixed drink. 

Inside of Not JUST a Caesar Shop in Calgary | Caesar Shop

Calgary joined in on the fun and started a petition of its own. The petitions were successful, and the Caesar became our nation’s official cocktail. 

To celebrate the drink’s anniversary, then-Mayor Dave Bronconnier declared May 13, 2009, Caesar Day in Calgary. 

Today, more than 400 million Canadians enjoy Caesars every year. 

But no one celebrates the Caesar more than Calgarians like Rachel Drinkle, the owner of Not JUST a Caesar Shop.

Drinkle’s shop immortalizes the Caesar by recognizing the drink’s importance to Canadian identity and Calgary’s history. 

Not JUST a Caesar Shop makes and sells a variety of Caesars, including some unconventional flavours like Coffee, Black Garlic, and Orange Caesar. 

In 2019, Drinkle founded the YYCaesarfest, a festival in Calgary where Caesar lovers gather to celebrate the popular drink. 

The first YYCaesar festival sold 3,000 tickets in the first weekend. 

The festival returns every year during the May long weekend. 

Making The Caesar Our Own

Every year, Mott’s hosts the Best Caesar in Town competition, where bartenders from each province craft their own spin on the Caesar.

Edmonton resident Mihail Stalianof brought home second place in the event last year. 

Mott’s is also involved with National Caesar Day celebrations across the country. The company hosts the Coast-to-Coast Toast livestream.

The livestream invites Canadians to tune in and toast their Caesars together.

Some pubs and restaurants offer build-your-own Caesar bars that let customers build their own Caesars, including The Beltliner in Calgary.

Bartenders competing at the 2023 Best Caesar in Town competition  PEI Shellfish
Bartenders competing at the 2023 Best Caesar in Town competition | PEI Shellfish

Canadians Embrace Caesars 

At one point, the Toronto Institute of Bartending ran a Caesar School that taught students the history and process behind the Caesar.

Last year, our neighbours in Saskatchewan broke the world record for the largest Caesar

Birmingham’s Pub in Regina created a Caesar containing 114 litres of vodka, 912 litres of clamato juice, 14 litres of Worcestershire sauce, and 10 litres of Tabasco sauce. 

The competition has begun! How long will Albertans allow our neighbours to be number one?

Canada’s love of Caesars is unmatched, especially in Calgary, where the iconic cocktail was concocted. 

Most countries turn their nose up at the thought of drinking clam juice. 

Their loss, our gain!

Now if we can only devise a way of using ‘prairie oysters’ in a drink, we’d have another winner!

The world's largest Caesar created by Birmingham’s Pub in Regina, Saskatchewan  Wayne Mantyka  X
The world’s largest Caesar created by Birmingham’s Pub in Regina, Saskatchewan | Wayne Mantyka | X

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