The Dawson City Sourtoe Cocktail

Updated on November 18, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

A quaint custom in Dawson City, in the northwestern Canadian territory of Yukon, is to serve a drink that is not for the faint of heart, nor, probably, for the sober. In the Sourdough Saloon of the Downtown Hotel, the brave or foolhardy can order a drink that is accessorized with a preserved human toe. “Gimme another shot, Joe.”

Source

The Sourtoe Tradition

You would think the sourtoe cocktail dated back to the Yukon Gold Rush of 1896. You can picture the scene.

Some grizzled old prospector, having severed a toe with a poorly aimed pickax, limps into a bar with a nugget the size of his fist and orders drinks for everyone. But, there's a catch, to claim their free shot they all have to kiss his still bloody digit. Too bad it didn’t happen that way.

The tradition goes back, waaaay back to 1973.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold.

— Robert Service, from "The Cremation of Sam McGee"

The first toe (there have been others, more on that later) was a vintage item. It is said to have belonged to a rum runner and miner called Louis Liken.

He was smuggling booze into Alaska with his brother Otto in the frosty cold of winter, sometime in the 1920s. Louis suffered frostbite in his big toe, so, to prevent gangrene from setting in, faithful Otto removed it with a woodcutting ax. The only anaesthetic available was overproof rum.

Louis preserved his amputated appendage in a jar of alcohol in his cabin; as you would.

Half a century later, the marinated toe turned up in the possession of Captain Dick Stevenson, a man who owned many of the attributes of someone who might be called “a character.”

Capt. Dick began to plop the toe into drinks in the Sourdough Saloon and customers were encouraged to take a swallow to prove they were “True Yukoners.” The Sourtoe Cocktail was born.

Capt. Dick Stevenson enjoys his favourite tipple. He willed his own toes to the saloon.
Capt. Dick Stevenson enjoys his favourite tipple. He willed his own toes to the saloon. | Source

The Legend Continues

The sourtoe cocktail became more formalized and fell into the possession of the Downtown Hotel. For $5 you get a shot of your favourite liquor, whether it be whiskey, gin, or Swedish glögg, (probably not glögg), and a submersed pickled toe.

The instructions are “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”

The successful imbiber gets bragging rights and a certificate of accomplishment. Okay, it’s not a Nobel Prize or a knighthood but for some modest achievements are enough.

A running tally is kept in the saloon and there are now about 100,000 “true Yukoners.”

Source

Toes that Disappear

Louis Liken’s toe did excellent duty until 1980 when a miner arrived to take the challenge. Sourtoe Cocktail Club picks up the story: “… Garry Younger was trying for the Sourtoe record. On his thirteenth glass of Sourtoe champagne, his chair tipped over backwards, and he swallowed the toe. Sadly, Toe #1 was not recovered.” Back then, the champagne was served in beer glasses.

Imagine that. What explanation could there be for a chair tipping backwards like that?

Other toes have vanished into the pockets of patrons no doubt to become a cherished item in a man cave somewhere.

There used to be a fine $500 for deliberately swallowing or stealing a toe. However, in 2013, a man brazenly ingested the appendage with a beer chaser after his sourtoe cocktail and immediately slapped $500 on the counter. He then boasted about his accomplishment.

Management took a dim view of this and upped the toe fine to $2,500 to discourage future showboating boors.

Replacement Toes

This may come as a surprise, but surplus human toes are not that easy to come by. The bar may be on its fifteenth toe as of this writing although it might also be on its twelfth; accounts vary no doubt due to note-taking reporters receiving their information along with alcohol.

Toes have been donated by various well-wishers often because of frostbite. But some have come from amputation due to diabetes or an inoperable corn. One arrived in a jar of alcohol with a note warning about the danger of mowing the lawn while wearing open-toe sandals.

Fresh toes are mummified in salt before going into service in the saloon.

Sometimes, when the supply is exhausted, the bar has had to resort to using the naughty bits of black bears. But, a fresh supply has just arrived.

British ex-marine Nick Griffiths took part in the 2018 483-kilometre Yukon Arctic Ultra race. The event takes place in the depths of winter and it cost Griffiths some toes. In June 2019, his amputated digit arrived at the Sourdough Saloon to begin mummification.

In September 2019, the hotel flew Nick Griffiths out to Dawson City to be reunited with his appendage in a cocktail. He chugged his libation without hesitation; as he pointed out “You know it's your toe, you know [where] it’s been,”

Now, they can fill in the blank; Dick Stevenson died in November 2019.
Now, they can fill in the blank; Dick Stevenson died in November 2019. | Source

Bonus Factoids

  • Diamond Tooth Gertie’s is another bar in Dawson City. For a while, it offered customers a glass of champagne with a molar in it. The drink proved not to be as toothsome as the saloon hoped and was withdrawn from the menu.
  • In China and Korea, baby mice wine is popular as a pick-me-up. It’s rice wine infused with the bodies of—well, you guessed it. Only baby mice are used because using furry adults would be gross.

Source
  • Another treat for tourists visiting Canada comes from the other end of the country. In Newfoundland you can be “Screeched In.” It requires that you don’t mind making a fool of yourself in public. You get dressed up in oilskins and Sou’Wester. Then the—ahem—victim is given a piece of Newfie Steak (baloney) to eat and a cod to kiss, chased with a shot of Screech (rum) after stating loud and clear “Long may your big jib draw.” Having successfully completed the ritual the participant is declared an honourary Newfoundlander. And, who wouldn’t want that distinction?

Sources

  • “Dawson City’s Sourtoe Cocktail at the Historic Downtown Hotel: As Bad as it Sounds.” Julie Miller, traveller.com, October 18, 2017.
  • “Mysterious American Swallows Yukon Bar’s Last Human Toe, Pays $500 Fine.” Tristan Hopper, The National Post, August 27, 2013.
  • “The Sourtoe Cocktail.” Atlas Obscura, undated.
  • “CANADA: ‘Disgusting’ Donation Enthusiastically Received for Yukon’s Sourtoe Cocktail.” Canadian Press, June 14, 2019.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 months ago from Sunny Florida

      What a crazy fad or what ever you want to call it. I would not participate! It is an interesting tale.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      This is a grizzly tale. Certainly not a drink for the faint of heart.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, delishably.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://delishably.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)