CLASSIC CAESARS STILL CONQUER BARROOM THIRST

(originally published in Bar and Beverage Magazine, fall 2005)

By John Geary

It’s a classic slice of Canadiana, as native to our country as hockey pucks, canoes, back bacon and toques.

The Caesar was invented in 1969 by a Calgary bartender. And although it is a classic drink, with some basic, unalterable features, there are a number of variations and just as many debates about which recipe is “best.”

In the case of the Caesar, many purists like to stand pat; they don’t like to mess with a good recipe. Others prefer to experiment – but even the experimentation with this drink often seems to be minimal.

“We sometimes give it a bit of a zip by squeezing a fresh lemon into it, and add a pickled green bean,” says Cory Weeds, owner/operator of Vancouver’s Cellar Jazz Café. “But I think when you’re dealing with a classic drink, you don’t want to mess with the standards.”

One feature that makes the Caesars unique at Port Coquitlam, B.C.’s Gillnetter Pub is the garnish: they use a fresh prawn rather than the traditional celery, bean or asparagus spear.

“We tried all those, but our customers like the prawn the most,” says Sharon Evans, the general manager. “They come here just for that.”

Of course, people with shellfish allergies have to be aware; the line, “Waiter, there’s a prawn in my drink,” won’t buy any sympathy at the Gillnetter. But it might buy a new friend or two …

“If someone’s allergic to seafood, the person they’re sitting next to always wants the prawn,” she says.

The Gillnetter also serves gin Caesars, tequila Caesars and even offers a Caesar martini with horseradish.

For Evans, the important thing, aside from the garnish, is the quality of the ingredients.

“We use only Smirnoff vodka and Mott’s Clamato juice - we don’t use any other kind of clamato juice,” she says.

While some establishments and their clientele prefer tradition, others thrive on innovation, and like to tinker.

Caesars have not figured prominently on the drink menu at Vancouver’s Steamworks, at least not until very recently, when the brewpub added several new Caesars to its menu, in an attempt to stay at the cutting edge of innovation.

“There are several different ways to spice it up: pepper vodka, horseradish, wasabi, all add a variety to it,” says Carl McCreath, general manager.

Another trend that may influence Caesar recipes in the years to come is a growing concern about health.

“More people are ordering them without salt, and I imagine that’s for health reasons, people trying to cut down on their salt,” says Daniel Syska, head bartender at the Bacchus Piano Lodge in Vancouver’s Wedgewood Hotel

CLAMATO STANDS FIRM

Of course, the one ingredient that makes a Caesar a Caesar, whether it includes vodka, gin or tequila, is Clamato juice. Mott's Clamato is the top selling seafood blend red juice, owning approximately 80 per cent of the category.

“(Of those sales), 61 per cent of consumers use Mott's Clamato to make Caesars including virgin Caesars,” says, Karen Daneliuk, associate brand manager, red juice and mixers, Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages, Canada.

POPULARITY OF CAESARS

Cadbury Schweppes figures seem to indicate Caesars are the most popular drink in Canada, with more than 250 million served up annually.

“It’s probably one of our top cocktails requested, although Caesars don’t account for a significant amount of our liquor sales,” says Weeds, whose jazz club sells more wine and beer than mixed drinks.

“We sell a ton of Caesars,” says Evans. “It’s our biggest selling cocktail, probably three-to-one compared with our next biggest seller, Margaritas or Bellinis.”

Keith Gillespie, director of consumer marketing, vodka and RTDs for Diageo, the producer of Smirnoff, says Caesar consumption accounts for about 20 per cent of the vodka consumption in Canada, and that ball park estimate is fairly stable year-to-year.

Keith Gillespie, director of consumer marketing, vodka and RTDs for Diageo, the producer of Smirnoff, says Caesar consumption accounts for about 20 per cent of the vodka consumption in Canada, and that ball park estimate is fairly stable year-to-year.

THE FUTURE: READY-TO-DRINK CAESARS

The future may see more RTD or ready-to-drink Caesars sold by some bar operators, in certain circumstances. While most bars still favour Caesars made from scratch, some facilities are better served by RTD’s.

“If you look at the Smirnoff Classic Caesar, the sales are up 20 per cent from a year ago, which is significant growth,” says Gillespie. “As far as bartenders’ preferences, it usually comes down to cost. In many cases, it’s more cost-effective for operators to make their own.

“However, many operators - like golf courses, for example – are big users of pre-prepared Caesars. Those types of venues are finding it to be a very popular drink.”

With the popularity of Caesars continuing to grow, Cadbury Schweppes recently launched Mott’s Clamato Caesar in cans (6 x 341mL) in Original and Extra Spicy. 

While there may be different opinions about the best Caesar recipe and debates about RTD versus made from scratch drinks, the one trend that stands out is the fact this uniquely Canadian concoction is here to stay for a long, long time.