Drink a Caesar ... for national unity
Catholic Herald, 15 May 2019
It is marvellous to have such a delicious drink that is distinctively Canadian, another gift of Alberta to the federation
CALGARY — The Thursday before Victoria Day is designated as National Caesar Day. I don’t know by whose authority such things are designated, but thanks are due to the responsible party. I suspect that it might be Mott’s, the clamato company. Cui bono? Mott’s — and a thirsty nation!
It is pleasantly remarkable that an estimated 419 million Caesars were drunk in Canada last year. That’s roughly a dozen per Canadian, including infants and teetotallers, so some are doing more than their fair share. More than a few, as more than a million Caesars are drunk, on average, each day in Canada. I, for one, eagerly discharge my patriotic duty.
The Caesar — or “Bloody Caesar” if you prefer, which I don’t — is Canada’s most popular cocktail. It’s more popular than lacrosse, our national sport. It was invented here, in my hometown, Calgary.
And therein lies a tale, few of the particulars of which can be established with encyclopedic certitude. Of course, mixing alcohol with storytelling is not a recipe for veracity, even if it often enhances the raconteur’s art.
The protagonist is Walter Chell. He was born in Montenegro to a noble woman who died in childbirth. He grew up in an Italian orphanage run by Jesuits, indicating the working of the Spirit in this story of spirits. (He would die on Easter Sunday, 1997.) Chell eventually immigrated to Canada, and was working as the bartender in the Owl’s Nest, the restaurant of the downtown Calgary Inn in 1969.
Fifty years ago this spring he was asked to create a new cocktail for the opening of a new Italian restaurant. He came up with what we now call the Caesar, with its combination of tomato and clam juice. There seems to be evidence that tomato and clam cocktails were already being made — ask for a “Clamdigger” in the United States — but give Chell his due, and Calgarians something to boast about.
In any case, it does seem that the name indisputably originates in Calgary. There are competing explanations for that, too.
I prefer the tale I was told recently by the waitress at Caesar’s Steak House, just down the street from the original Calgary Inn, where they make a bloody (!) good Caesar. Chell’s new cocktail was popularized there — either because Chell came to tend bar or because of proximity to the genius loci. The cocktail had been given different names, but none seemed to stick, so patrons would order it as “Caesar’s cocktail” or, elsewhere, the “drink they make at Caesar’s.” And so “Caesar” stuck.
As the Italians say, se non è vero, e ben trovato; if it’s not true, it should be.
It is marvellous to have such a delicious drink that is distinctively Canadian, another gift of Alberta to the federation. When returning home from abroad on a Canadian airline, passengers already feel at home when the flight stewards feature clamato juice on their carts, at the ready to make a Caesar. Air Canada, doing its bit to promote Canadian unity, offers celery salt in its lounges at the Caesar-making stations. Air travel would be immeasurably improved if Caesar-making stations became ubiquitous.
The Caesar is adaptable; mixologists — genuinely professional and decidedly amateur — make all sorts of modifications, some of them rather dubious. It seems that all that is absolutely required is the clamato.
I tend towards the traditional Caesar, with one big exception. I prefer gin Caesars to the original vodka Caesars, on the eminently sensible grounds that anything made with vodka is better when made with gin. My most refined mother taught me that by example; no Screwdrivers were served in our home — it was always gin with orange juice.
Vodka is powerful, even overpowering, dangerous. Gin is convivial, gentle. Life is better with gin. Caesars are better, too.
Continue reading at the National Post: https://nationalpost.com/opinion/father-raymond-j-de-souza-drink-a-caesar-for-national-unity