Taste Test: Which Clamato Flavor Is Best For A Michelada

The michelada is ideal for those in the mood for a kicked-up cocktail. Since the 1960s, the combination of cold beer with the clam and tomato juice drink has been a go-to for beer-loving cocktail enthusiasts and those requiring a post-celebratory, hair-of-the-dog cocktail. The michelada is known as much for its ability to relieve a hangover, as its ability to quench the thirst of those imbibing. The cocktail is high in sodium, which helps rehydrate after a long night of drinking alcohol. The clam juice has vitamins and minerals, like potassium. Tomato juice is high in vitamins C, A, and K, all helping cure the depleting effects of alcohol on the body.

Not all Clamato is the same, though. Over the years, the producer of pre-made Clamato juice, Mott's LLP, has crafted offshoots from the original combination, offering flavors like Picante, Cubano, pickled bean, and even a non-alcoholic Clamato Michelada Especial. But which one of these is best in a classic michelada cocktail? We tested three easy-to-find flavors to see which Clamato makes the best michelada cocktail recipe. Here are our results.

What is Clamato?

Before we taste, let's dig into the reality: You're either a fan of the drink or you aren't. We lie on the fan side as the combination of sweet, acidic tomato juice with briny clam broth, pepper, and an array of spices. The combination transports us to a Sunday crab, clam, and crawfish boil on the banks of the Mississippi River, sipping ice-cold long necks, Bloody Mary cocktails, and chilled micheladas.

Clamato's origin has several inventors vying for creation. One story says its invention was in a bar in Baja. One account says it came from an Italian immigrant bartender in Canada tasked with creating a specialty cocktail for a restaurant opening. Other options are a part of classic American cookbooks from the 1900s and 1950s. Since the 1960s, Clamato's popularity has bloomed throughout North America. The juice has a permanent place inside Canada's official cocktail, the Caesar, and michelada cocktails crafted in Northern Mexico and beyond. You'll also find Clamato in homemade Bloody Mary cocktail recipes, pairing perfectly with dishes like barbecue brisket and slow-smoked ribs.

Still, we know that beverage producer Duffy-Motts packaged the drink we know today as Clamato in California in the 1960s. The Canadian barkeep creating the specialty drink included Mott's version in his Caesar cocktail invention. Today, the brand is a part of Keurig Dr. Pepper.

Where is Clamato available, and how much does it cost?

Since its first bottling in the late 1960s, you can find the original Clamato juice drink and various alternative flavors everywhere. It is available on shelves at the neighborhood bodega, local supermarkets, big box stores, and restaurant supply outlets. 

The juice cocktail comes in multiple sizes, from 5.5-ounce single-serve cans to 64-ounce bottles, with prices ranging from $2.50 to $7.00 per bottle at the time of publication. The pricing is relatively consistent across all the flavor options, meaning you won't be penalized at the checkout line if you prefer extra spicy over the original.

Available flavor options will vary depending on where you are in North America. Still, you will likely find three selections throughout the country: the original, Limón, and Picante. Due to each product's broad national availability, we have chosen these three styles for our taste test.

How we prepared our micheladas

Like Clamato's origin, michelada's creation story has a variety of authors. While many of these versions may be accurate, the origin could also simply come from the name Michelada or mi chela helada, which means my cold beer in Spanish.

Whatever origin story you choose to believe, there tends to be a universal acceptance of the main components of a michelada. These ingredients include cold Mexican beer, like Corona or Dos Equis, ice, lime, salt, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi sauce (or soy sauce), and, for our version, Clamato. The Clamato juice is an accent, not a main ingredient, as are all ingredients aside from the beer. We are making a beer cocktail, not a Bloody Mary with beer.

For our Clamato michelada, we stirred together a few dashes of hot sauce and Worcestershire with four ounces of Clamato, a dash of salt, a pinch of chili powder, and the juice of half a lime in a tall lager-style pint glass, or a standard beer mug. We topped our mixture with ice and 12 ounces of beer. We also added a lime for garnish.

Taste test No. 1: Original Clamato

The Clamato michelada is ideal for refreshing the palate on a hot day, enhancing the beer's natural flavor. The drink does this while delivering the flavor features of a great cocktail, including sweet, spicy, savory, salt, umami, and acid. 

The original recipe, Clamato, includes a combination of tomato juice, clam broth, herbs, spices, salt, and MSG. The flavor inspiration comes from the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. The version we used includes several more ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, like high-fructose corn syrup, autolyzed yeast extract, and disodium guanylate, along with dried garlic, onion, and red chili pepper. 

The Clamato flavor is distinctly briny from the clam broth, giving an umami note to the drink without an overwhelming fishy taste. The tomato's sweetness and the earthiness of the spice create balance with the clam in the original juice drink. The taste is sweet and savory when added to our classic michelada recipe, with the juice, the spices, and the Mexican beer acting in symmetry, creating an overall well-balanced drink.

Taste test No. 2: Clamato Limón

Clamato Limón is ideal for cocktail buffs who love citrus juice's zesty, refreshing flavor. The ingredients include everything in the original version, plus lime juice concentrate and jalapeño pepper puree. Adding these two ingredients gives an herbaceous, grassy flavor and a pop of lively acidity to the clam and tomato drink. 

The inclusion also causes the clam flavor in the juice to become muted. The Limón's citrusy flavors are the most noticeable and at the forefront of the palate, translating to a more citrusy michelada. With a more noticeable citrus and herbal spice flavor than the option made with the original Clamato juice, we needed to add more hot sauce and Worcestershire to balance the fruity lemon and lime taste. 

Though refreshing, the Limón flavor has the highest sodium content in our taste test and the most sugar. It has 830 milligrams of sodium and 13 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving. 

Taste test No. 3: Clamato Picante

Like the Clamato Limón, Clamato Picante begins with a similar base to the original recipe. Then, the drink receives an infusion of jalapeño pepper puree and red chili pepper, increasing the heat to create an incredibly flavorful and peppery tomato and clam juice. The flavor profile is less citrus-focused than the Limon, allowing the natural umami of the clam to shine while elevating the overall piquant taste.

Mixing the Picante into the basic michelada ingredients gives the drink a delightful spiciness that includes the fiery flavor of red and green chili peppers and the savory earthiness of the juice's garlic, onion, and herbs. The overall flavor profile brings a layer of heat that harmonizes with the sweetness of the tomato, the salty note from the clams, and the bitterness of the beer. The ice in the cocktail cools the drink's spiciness. The juice has a wonderfully smooth, silky palate that invites you to revisit it repeatedly.

Pro-tip: If you have chili-lime seasoning, like Tajín, on hand, we recommend wetting the rim of your glass and dipping it in the seasoning to add an extra spicy, citrusy flavor. You won't regret it.

Best Clamato juice flavor

Taste testing the three flavors of Clamato in a Michelada reaffirmed a few things. First, we love to drink micheladas, especially on a hot day. The beer cocktail is flavorful and refreshing. And secondly, we continue to love Clamato. 

Though each flavor presented a different experience with the cocktail, all were delicious. For our taste profile, the Clamato Picante michelada was the best. It was spicy and sweet with a lovely combination of umami, savory herb, and citrus. However, the drink brought a subtle heat to the overall flavor profile. If spicy foods are a problem, it may not be your best option. 

If so, we raise a glass to the original Clamato michelada because it has everything we expect from the classic cocktail; the clams bring delicious brininess, and the tomatoes offer sweet acidity. While the Limón's flavor was acceptable, the high sodium, sugar, and acidity made it our least favorite in the taste test. Still, if your palate craves the flavor of all things lime, the Clamato Limón michelada combo may be for you.