When selecting a mid-March cocktail for this article, I was tempted to go the easy route with a St. Patrick’s Day whiskey drink. Then this weekend, I had the fortune to dine at Magasin Wells (aka M.Wells), the critically acclaimed Québécois-American diner in Long Island City, Queens.
M.Wells’ haute comfort food menu and greasy spoon aesthetic were beyond sublime. However, they merit their own article devoted to what I can only describe as veritable cibo matto. Whelks in garlic and butter sauce for breakfast? Yes, ma’am! Now, the featured brunch cocktail, The Bloody Caesar, is right up my alley for the Ides of March!
The Bloody Caesar is Canada’s most popular cocktail. It is a variation of the traditional Bloody Mary with a unique ingredient: clam juice. The cocktail graces many brunch menus in the United States but sadly takes a back seat to the ubiquitous Mary and the up and coming Bloody Maria (with tequila). Most likely, it is the industrially produced clam juice/tomato mixture called Clamato that has tainted the cocktail in the eyes of Americans. Well fret no more Caesar lovers, ditch the Clamato and make this drink the right way!
A brief timeline of the Bloody Caesar’s evolution:
44 B.C. (Rome): A group of forty Senators, who called themselves the Liberatores, assassinate Gaius Julius Caesar in Rome’s Theater of Pompey on March 15th (the Ides of March). The killers, including his close friend Marcus Junius Brutus, stab the Dictator 23 times. Rumor around the Forum has it that Caesar’s last meal was Roman style clams.
1623 (London): English playwright William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar published in the First Folio and popularizes the phrases “Beware of the Ides of March” and “Et Tu Brute.”
1924 (Paris): According to cocktail lore, Pete Petriot invents the Bloody Mary at the legendary Harry’s American Bar. Like the traveling master bartenders of today, Petriot goes on to work the Savoy Hotel in London and the St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole Bar in New York. Due to the lack of available vodka in the 1930s, the drink is made with gin and dubbed the Red Snapper.
1969 (Calgary, Canada): Bartender Walter Chell, of the Owl’s Nest bar at the Calgary Inn, is asked to create a signature cocktail for the Inn’s new Italian restaurant, called Marco’s. Chell takes the Bloody Mary formula and adds mashed up clams, in addition to a variety of spices like Cayenne pepper. Ecco! The Bloody Caesar is born and becomes one of Canada’s most popular cocktails.
M.Wells enhances Mr. Chell’s creation by adding lime juice, Sriracha spicy Thai hot sauce, real clam juice, pepper, plus paprika in addition celery salt on the rim. The ratio of tomato juice to claim juice is almost 1:1 which creates tomato water like consistency with a clam brine edge. The combination is salty without the thick tomato juice density, which makes it savory on the palate and is sure to sway Bloody Mary haters to revisit the genre.
I used locally produced Bootlegger 21 Vodka from Prohibition Distillery. This vodka is made from metro area grown grain and made in small batches in the Hudson Valley. Bootlegger 21 received a gold medal at the 2010 New York International Spirits Competition.
The Bloody Caesar
Prepared as per Sarah Obraitis of M. Wells Diner
5 cups of tomato juice
4 cups of clam juice
1 tbsp of Worcestershire
1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce
Juice of 2 limes
Salt and Pepper
Tools: Mixing tin, bar spoon, jigger, chilled pint glass, pairing knife
Dust the rim of the glass with paprika, celery seed and pepper. Add 6 oz. of this mixture to 2 ounces of vodka. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing tin and roll the mixture back and forth. Do not shake as that will break up the consistency of the tomato juice. Once chilled, strain into pint glass over ice cubes. Garnish with lemon wedge. Makes 10 servings.
Sarah informs me that this week M. Wells adds pickled clams frozen in the ice cubes to the mix. This will add an entirely new dynamic to the drink as the ice melts. The diner will also add cocktail service from the folks behind nearby bar Dutch Kills.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.
***Payman Bahmani will return in April for his weekly Happy Hour column and is honored to have Fredo tend the bar while away.