Clam Dunk

An energy drink for the Latin market

At the colorful Mariscos Ensenada restaurant on 59th Avenue and Thomas, owner Oscar Rubio demonstrates how to make a michelada. He takes a salt-rimmed frosty mug filled with ice and adds lime juice, Tapatio salsa, salt, pepper and lots of Clamato -- the tangy clam-juice-and-veggie drink that Latinos love. Then he adds the capper -- Mexican beer.

To the uninitiated, it might sound disgusting. But beer and clam juice is a runaway hit in the Valley. In nightclubs in L.A., Chicago and Texas, the michelada is nearly as popular as the margarita.

There are many versions of the michelada, some containing Worcestershire sauce and even soy sauce. But the varieties popular in Phoenix Mexican seafood places all have one thing in common: Clamato.

To many Latinos, Clamato is like ketchup. It goes with everything -- shrimp cocktails, ceviche, beer, tequila, or straight with a little lime and chile.

Mexicanos love Clamato so much you'd think it originated south of the border. But no, it came from the north, a Canadian invention that became the basis for the Bloody Caesar, Canada's favorite cocktail. But Mott's, the juice giant that owns the brand, knows how much the drink has become popular with migrants from the south and markets to Latinos aggressively.

"We love it with beer, that's for sure," says L.A. transplant Juan Mendez, who has been drinking Clamato for years. "It's the Mexican mixed drink, good for hangovers. We even drank it with King Cobra."

In a bid to capitalize on that kind of loyalty, the juice company has produced a new energy drink it calls Clamato Energia. Think of it as the Red Bull of the Latino market, with its ginseng and vitamins aimed directly at the Spanish-speaking crowd. But someone needs to have a talk with the folks in the Mott's marketing department. On the Clamato Web site, there's this description of Clamato Energia's beneficial properties: "Hispanics are looking for an energy boost to help them in labor-intensive work."

Surely there are Latino professionals who need a boost, too.

I came across one, a Latino lawyer taking a much-deserved break from his intense digging through a mountain of legal briefs. "A lot of my friends [drink micheladas]," says attorney Francisco Gutierrez. "I ask them, Are you drinking a beer or eating a salad?'" Although he acknowledges the popularity of clam products, Gutierrez says he's dubious about the benefits of a clam juice energy boost. "Look around," says the attorney, referring to the prolific gain in Valley Latinos, who tend to have a high birth rate. "We don't need any more ginseng or clams," he says, laughing.

 
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