A few years ago I visited Tofino, a remote surfing town on the west coast of Vancouver Island. One Sunday morning, I headed to one of the town's best restaurants. Perched on a bar stool in a packed room, I spotted the bartender assembling the telltale ingredients for a Caesar: Clamato juice, vodka, Worcestershire, hot sauce. As a server took that lone drink to the other end of the room, heads turned. For the next hour, the bartender tended to an assembly line of Caesars. As he got started, he stared right at me and said, "It only takes one."
If you've ever enjoyed a plate of linguine a la vongole, you've tasted the foundation of the Caesar. It riffs off the interplay of tomatoes and clams. Briny and sweet, savory and salty, the result is far more than the sum of its parts. Add vodka, spice, and a pickled bean or two, and you have a drink that suits from brunch o'clock until happy hour.
A reductionist might dismiss the Caesar as a variation on the Bloody Mary — Mary at a clam dig, if you will. But a realist will understand that aside from post-hockey rioting and being smug about healthcare, this is as patriotic as Canadians get.
Is it weird to base a national identity on a breakfast cocktail? Probably. But if there's anything Canadians like more than a Caesar, it's to out ourselves as Canadian. This is why we order Caesars on airplanes. This is why we move to other countries, order Clamato off the internet, and foist Caesars upon local friends. We especially love explaining that there's clam juice in it. Try it, we implore. You'll like it, we promise.
You can now get artisanal versions of the Caesar, made with small-batch mixers and locally made spirits and condiments. That doesn't even touch on the the arms race of ostentatious garnishes. But the truth is, there is something delightfully basic about a plain ol' Caesar, made with Clamato from the corner store, nondescript vodka, and Worcestershire and Tabasco from the back of your cupboard. Try it. You'll like it, eh?
Makes 1 cocktail
Salt and pepper
A few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 to 3 dashes
Tabasco sauce, or more if you like it extra spicy
Run the lime around the rim of a tall glass, then dip into a dish of celery salt. Fill the glass with ice. Add a shake each of salt and pepper, the Worcestershire, and Tabasco, and then the vodka. Top with Clamato juice and stir. Add garnishes of your choosing — a celery stick is pretty classic, but feel free to go crazy (pickled green beans, spears of smoked salmon, or maple-cured bacon aren't out of the question).
Homemade Clamato: If you can't find Clamato juice, you can make your own from two parts clam juice to one part tomato juice.