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Richmond duo help build a better Caesar

Quick, name a truly Canadian beverage. And don’t automatically go for a “double double” because you have to remember that while Tim Hortons has significant Canadian roots, it is part of the U.S.
Walter duo
Richmond-raised entrepreneurs Aaron Harowitz (right) and Zack Silverman are marketing a craft-style Caesar mix they say is more in keeping with the Canadian-invented cocktail’s origins. Photo submitted

Quick, name a truly Canadian beverage.

And don’t automatically go for a “double double” because you have to remember that while Tim Hortons has significant Canadian roots, it is part of the U.S. Burger King empire, which in turn has a major ownership stake courtesy of 3G Capital, a New York investment firm backed by Brazilian investors.

So, what are we left with?

Answer: The venerable Caesar.

If you believe the numbers, 360 million are served each year in Canada. That’s a lot of drinks per person of drinking age.

It’s a born-in-Canada cocktail whose beginnings go back to the late 1960s when Calgary restaurant manager Walter Chell concocted a tomato and clam juice mix, added hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, spices and mixed it with vodka over ice and served it with a stalk of celery.

Now, a pair of Richmond childhood friends are trying to repatriate the savoury cocktail with their own blend of Casesar mix that is simply named after the father of the Caesar – Walter.

Zack Silverman said he and Aaron Harowitz were tired of the limited choice of Caesar mixes on the market. They were not only full of undesirable ingredients, but lacked a real sense of quality that today’s craft brewery-favouring consumers demand, according to the pair.

That’s why they jumped from their everyday professions — Silverman is a lawyer and Harowitz is a graphic designer — into the beverage business to sell a product that stays close to the origins of Chell’s invention, which was inspired by spaghetti alle vongole (tomato sauce and clams).

“Aaron and I, we’re both foodies, we cook and it’s something we care about, and one day we were looking at the Caesar market in Canada and realised it’s by far the most popular cocktail in Canada,” Silverman, 38, said. “Three-hundred and sixty million. That’s a mind-boggling number for the population.”

But for the last, 30-plus years almost every Caesar in Canada was made with one mix made by a U.S.-based multi-national, he added.

“But most importantly for us, that mix really didn’t have good ingredients,” Silverman said, adding it contains MSG, artificial colours, high fructose corn syrup and uses dehydrated clam broth.

When the pair looked at all of those factors, and blended in today’s preference for all natural, high quality, small batch made products, they came up with a premium Caesar mix that is made, by their Vancouver-based firm Brutus Beverages,  in Ontario.

“It didn’t make sense that the most popular cocktail in Canada had essentially no alterative except for this U.S., mass-marketed mix full of artificial ingredients,” Silverman said. “So, we thought someone is going to change this, it may as well be us.”

When producing the recipe for Walter the pair subscribed to the “garbage in, garbage out” philosophy and settled on sourcing quality ingredients.

“We use whole, all natural tomatoes, that’s why our juice is red,” Silverman said. “There’s no reason to add artificial colour. Instead of using high fructose corn syrup we add a touch of natural cane sugar. So, it’s simple, clean ingredients that make all the difference.”

So, what about the clam juice?

Walter uses the real thing and backs that up by working with the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean-Wise program to ensure the clams they use come from a sustainable source.

While the tomatoes come from California, and the clams are harvested from a U.S. Atlantic fishery, thoughts are to ultimately make Walter all-Canadian at some point.

But with all of the choices out there, why do Canadians guzzle Caesars?

“I don’t know if there’s one answer,” Silverman said. “It’s a little bit like having Vegamite associated with Australians. It’s like how we differentiate ourselves from Americans. We like hockey more than football. We’re into curling. We like back bacon, which is very clichéd, but Caesars are one of them, too.

“Americans don’t get it. We get it, and it’s delicious.”

Perhaps it’s the clam juice?

“That really does add something unique, that briney-ness which when talking about a savoury cocktail, makes it better,” Silverman said.

Another attraction is the wide range of garnishes a Caesar can have.

“That’s all part of the fun,” Silverman said. “It’s so customizable.”

The most remarkable Silverman recalls seeing is a Caesar served with an entire soft shell crab stuffed into the glass.

“It was a deep fried, breaded crab,” he said laughing.

As for how he personally likes his Caesar, Silverman said he’s a minimalist and prefers his served with lots of ice in a short glass rimmed with a simple collection of spices, not just celery salt which he finds too bitter.

So, what would Walter Chell think of Walter

“We hope he’d be proud of what we’ve created because when Walter started he was using his own mix, not one coming out of a giant factory,” Silverman said. “We think we’re going back to those roots of using real tomatoes and real clam juice.”

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