Food&drink

National Post (National Edition) - - FOOD & DRINKS - Week­end Post

‘Clam­ato: It started the sec­ond vodka rev­o­lu­tion!” So de­clares the bold­faced head­line of a full-colour ad in New York mag­a­zine circa 1976. The cam­paign to win Amer­i­can hearts and minds con­tin­ues: “Not since the Bloody Mary cre­ated the first vodka rev­o­lu­tion has a new com­bi­na­tion stirred up so much ex­cite­ment. Here at last is the per­fect mixer for vodka. Clam­ato is light, bright, re­fresh­ing, and makes a drink that’s less fill­ing. No won­der the rev­o­lu­tion is sweep­ing the coun­try – with new drink recipes and new names pop­ping up ev­ery­where.”

You can cer­tainly sense the delir­ium. Clam­ato, Amer­ica! The ir­re­press­ible bev­er­age sen­sa­tion of the decade has ar­rived!

What might an en­ter­pris­ing drinker south of the bor­der do with vodka and Clam­ato? These ad­ver­tis­ers of­fer sug­ges­tions: there is the “Clamdig­ger,” as “bright and brisk as a day at the seashore,” com­posed of vodka over ice in a tall glass topped with Clam­ato – and “which has al­ready be­come a favourite in many parts of the coun­try.” There is the “Red Bull,” en­tirely un­re­lated to the en­ergy drink of the same name, which is made with vodka and Beefam­ato. And there is of course what the mar­ket­ing peo­ple have dubbed the “Bloody Cae­sar:” a new drink that “has al­ready swept tri­umphantly through Canada and has be­gun the con­quest of the States.”

The Cae­sar’s con­quest was never re­al­ized, need­less to say. The drink’s ad­vances were re­pelled, and Clam­ato was driven back north­ward, its do­min­ion to re­main for­ever Canada. The ef­fects of the first vodka rev­o­lu­tion en­dure to this day on ev­ery Bush­wick brunch menu — the Bloody Mary is still a fix­ture na­tion­wide of any late-morn­ing meal con­tain­ing eggs — but rev­o­lu­tion num­ber two and its reper­cus­sions have long since van­ished from mem­ory. In Amer­ica, no ex­cite­ment lingers the Bloody Mary re­mains pop­u­lar most of all for the sim­ple rea­son that it is savoury where the ma­jor­ity of cock­tails tend to be either strongly boozy or sug­ary-sweet. It af­fords the drinker some­thing nicely ap­pe­tiz­ing but not sac­cha­rine.

It would be nearly 50 years be­fore the Bloody Mary was reimag­ined as a Cana­dian li­ba­tion. Its famed aquatic re­fine­ment came cour­tesy of Wal­ter Chell, an Ital­ian ex­pat com­mis­sioned by the restau­rant at the Cal­gary Inn to de­velop a sig­na­ture cock­tail for the house. On va­ca­tion in Venice shortly be­fore Chell had en­joyed spaghetti alle von­gole, or pasta with tomato sauce and clams – and for some rea­son as­sumed the recipe would make a de­lec­ta­ble drink. He was, as­ton­ish­ingly, quite right, and in 1969, the Cae­sar – named in trib­ute to its in­ven­tor’s her­itage – was born. Pedan­tic mixol­o­gists will con­tend that vari­a­tions on the Blood Mary in­vok­ing the ad­di­tion of clam juice had al­ready long ex­isted in the United States. But no­body could make the idea of such a strange brew catch on quite like Chell.

The clas­sic Cae­sar calls for a lib­eral serv­ing of vodka, a hal­founce of lime juice, two dashes of Tabasco, three to four dashes of Worces­ter­shire sauce, a pinch of sea salt, ground pep­per, and about five ounces of clam-and-tomato juice. In Chell’s day, this would be self-made, but thanks to the fine peo­ple at Mott’s, whose Clam­ato mix was in­tro­duced to the mar­ket for­tu­itously in 1966, to­day it is mostly store-bought. Purists may in­sist that an au­then­tic Cae­sar truly de­mands clams mashed and mixed with tomato by hand, and as­pir­ing mixol­o­gists with that kind of time on their hands may please feel free.

For the rest of us, and in­deed for any restau­rant sen­si­ble of the value of its bar staff ’s time, just stick with Clam­ato. It did af­ter all start the sec­ond vodka rev­o­lu­tion.

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