‘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.