Ask 10 people where to get the best Caesar in town and you’re just as likely to get 10 different answers as you are 10 people saying "mine is best."
More than almost any other cocktail, this decidedly Canadian cocktail — whether it was actually created in Canada is still up for debate, but we’ve certainly adopted it as our own — is truly a matter of taste.
Because there’s no one definitive Caesar recipe, it’s a drink that can truly be tailored to individual tastes.
"Cocktail bartenders love to talk about how they are like chefs for drinks, and nothing embodies this more than the Caesar," says Joel Carleton, owner of Bee’s Knees Bar Services and president of the Manitoba Bartenders Guild.
Carleton also won the 2014 Mott’s Clamato Best Caesar in Town competition for his concoction, the "Manic Organic," in which he used "a ton of garden-fresh components I grew organically on my property."
And while not all of us have access to such resources, most of us have plenty of Caesar-friendly ingredients in our home to jazz up the savoury cocktail.
"Think of the staples that balance or season many food dishes — hot sauces, fish sauces, soya sauce, jugo maggi or other MSG-laden savoury treats, marinades or vinegars (like balsamic), garlic and ginger purées, flavoured olive oils, brines from pickle and olive jars, fresh citrus juice like lemon or lime," Carleton suggests.
"Balance comes from the addition of some form of complementary acid. A touch of fresh citrus juice or pickling brine helps."
Even the seasoning on the rim of the glass need not be store-bought.
"Start with a base of salt and pepper and try to complement the other ingredients in the Caesar drink," he explains.
Find a medium-sized bowl, add dried spices or herbs from often-neglected or overlooked spice racks, and you’re good to go.
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Building a better Caesar
In honour of National Caesar Day (May 18), I tasted three different tomato clam cocktails blind — I didn’t know which was which to avoid influence by brand, price, etc. I tasted each of the tomato clam cocktails (only the Mott’s is Clamato — it’s a trademarked term that’s become ubiquitous like Kleenex or Zamboni) on its own before having them in a vodka-based Caesar, based on a fairly standard recipe (vodka, tomato clam cocktail, Worchestershire sauce, Tabasco, ice cubes and a seasoned rim).