In 1969, the owners of the Calgary Inn in Calgary, Alberta, asked Walter Chell, the Montenegrin who presided over their Owl’s Nest bar, to create a recipe to represent their new Italian restaurant in a contest. So Chell took some vodka, a bit of Worcestershire and a little Tabasco, added a mix of clam and tomato juices and dubbed it the “Bloody Caesar.” It sounds rather odd, but it’s the national drink of Canada and has been so practically since Chell invented—or should I say “invented”—it.
There are two ways to be the creator of a cocktail. You can be the undisputed first person ever to put a certain set of ingredients together in a glass. There is much honor in that, to be sure, though there is rarely much fame.
Or you can take a pre-existing combination of ingredients and give it a catchy new name and backstory. You then proceed to sell it like crazy, and if you’re good, your creation suddenly catches on. This might not be particularly honorable (although that’s open to debate), but it’s plenty of fun—and sometimes you end up famous.
Jerry Thomas, founding father of the American bar, was that second type of mixologist. He took the Tom & Jerry, an obscure New England concoction that had been around since before he was born, and made it his own, riding it into the pages of history.
Which kind of inventor was Chell?
Chell was a hell of a bartender, there’s no doubt about that. But as far back as 1953, Walter Winchell was writing about a Smirnoff Smiler, which called for vodka, clam juice, tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce. And in 1968, Clamato (that’s the duo of clam and tomato juices) was pushing a Clam Digger, which is basically the same drink without the spices. But nobody asks for Clam Diggers or Smirnoff Smilers these days.
It’s one thing to mix a drink; it’s another to get people to order it. Chell got a whole country to do that. Now, that’s some fancy inventing.
- Celery salt, to rim glass
- 1 1/2 ounces vodka
- 4 ounces Clamato juice
- 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
- Prepared horseradish, to taste (optional)
- Garnish: cucumber spear
- Garnish: lime wedge
- Garnish: celery stalk
Coat the rim of a tall glass with celery salt, fill with ice and set aside.
Add the vodka, Clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and horseradish into a mixing glass with ice.
Pour back and forth into another mixing glass a few times to combine.
Strain into the prepared glass.
Garnish with a cucumber spear, lime wedge and celery stalk.