Excuse Me, There’s a Toe In My Cocktail

December 13, 2022

Downtown Hotel in Dawson City home of the Sour Toe Cocktail.

The Sourdough Saloon, located in the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Canada, has an interesting, but extremely off-putting, signature drink. It’s called the Sourtoe cocktail, and yes, there is an actual human toe involved.

The drink came about in the 1920s when a rum runner and miner name Louie Linken had a toe amputated that had frostbite. He put the loose toe in a jar of alcohol like a souvenir and stored it on a shelf in his cabin. Fifty years later, the toe was discovered by Captain Dick Stevenson while he was cleaning the cabin. He took the toe to the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City and began to put the appendage into drinks. People began to see what they were made of by ordering the strange concoction.

The toe Stevenson found lasted seven years, but its eventual loss wasn’t from disintegration or decay. Its demise was actually much worse than that. In 1980, a miner named Garry Younger was trying his hand at the Sourtoe cocktail and trying to break the Sourtoe record for most glasses consumed of the drink. On his thirteenth glass, he accidentally fell back in his chair and swallowed the toe.

But that wasn’t the end of the Sourtoe cocktail. After the loss of that first toe, seven more toes found their way into the drink from several different sources. The second toe was donated after an amputation, the third toe was given after frostbite (and also accidentally swallowed like the first), and the fourth toe was stolen. The fifth, sixth, and seventh toes were also donated, while the eighth toe was donated by someone who advised that you shouldn’t wear sandals while mowing the lawn.

Another odd event happened on August 25, 2013, when a man ordered the drink and deliberately swallowed the toe. There was a fine for just such an act that had a penalty of $500, which the man paid. That event led to the fine being raised to $2,500 to discourage the practice.

Then in June 2017, the toe was stolen after someone had ordered the drink. Luckily the toe found its way back to the saloon in the mail. The thief included an apology letter and a statement that he was too drunk at the time to know what he did. I guess that’s what a toe in a drink will do to you.

The toes are tended to by a “Toe Master” who makes sure they are kept in decent shape and who also prepares a new toe to be used in the drink. The saloon even had to use toes other than the big toe after the swallowing incident of 2013. Current and future toes to be used are donated or bequeathed to the saloon.

The cocktail is made with tequila, whiskey, or rum, and the Health Department requires that the drink be made with 80-proof alcohol. The traditional way is with Yukon Jack, a liquor made from Canadian whiskey and honey.

A person can become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club if they can handle the drink, but the most important rule to becoming a member is that the lips have to touch the toe. According to Toe Master Terry Lee, during an interview with NPR in June 2017, 71,468 people had tried their hand at the drink. It gets awfully cold up there in the Yukon.

Sources: NPR, Dawson City, LiveScience, Atlas Obscura

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