In the frigid Canadian north, where temperatures routinely reach the negative double digits, a small Yukon bar thought of a unique way to warm up: the Sourtoe Cocktail. This whisky shot with a human toe - yes, a real human toe - is as grotesque as it is polarizing.
You'll find the Sourtoe Cocktail at the Sourdough Saloon, located inside the charming Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon. Drinking it is less about enjoying a cocktail than earning a badge of honor - a classic "hold my beer" moment. So how do you become part of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club? You've got to kiss the toe. Once your lips touch the dried flesh of the mummified body part, you join the ranks of other proud inebriated heroes. It's such an honor, some alumni have hung their membership certificate next to their college diploma.
Downtown Hotel's Sourtoe Cocktail has a wild history - perhaps as wild as the impulse to down the cocktail itself. From Prohibition rum runners on the lam to incidents involving lawnmowers to elusive toe-nappers, the Sourtoe Cocktail may be the most interesting drink you'll ever order.
The Tradition Started In The 1970s After Someone Found A Severed Toe In A Jar
As the legend goes, Prohibition-era rum runner Louie Linken and his brother Otto got stuck in a blizzard that led to frostbite so severe, Louie's right foot was frozen solid. Otto used an ax to chop off Louie's toe to save him from life-threatening gangrene. They placed the amputated, frostbitten toe in a jar of alcohol for kicks.
In 1973 Captain Dick Stevenson unearthed Louie's severed toe in a cabin. In what could only feasibly have been a drunken bet, he decided to pop that sucker into a beer glass filled with champagne and take a taste. It somehow became Sourdough Saloon's signature drink, and thousands of people trek to Dawson City each year to take the Sourtoe challenge.
To Join The Sourtoe Cocktail Club, Your Lips Have To Touch The Toe
To join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, there's only one rule: "You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch the toe." If your lips don't meet the salt-cured severed toe, you're not getting your membership card.
The process of joining the club is a little involved. If you venture into Sourdough Saloon, you can't just ask for the toe drink - you must ask for Captain River Rat. Following your request, you have to buy a shot. Any shot will do, as long as it's a strong alcohol. Once you get the shot, you have to repeat the Sourtoe Oath before the bartender drops the toe into your drink.
More Than 100,000 People Have Joined The Sourtoe Club Since 1973
More than 100,000 people have completed the challenge since the club launched in 1973. The Sourdough Saloon serves up roughly 30 to 50 toe cocktails per night, and those who complete the challenge wear it as a badge of honor.
"I still carry the official membership card in my wallet, and when I returned home from the Yukon, I replaced my university diploma on my wall with my Sourtoe Cocktail certificate," said Josh Martin, who joined the club in June 2010. He added, "I still shudder when I think about my tongue touching the raggedy, severed end."
The Saloon's Toes Are Donations From Enthusiastic Patrons
Severed toes aren't easy to come by; Sourdough Saloon has gone through more than 10. They procure their mummified digits through donations. One patron gave his toe after he lost it in a lawn-mowing accident. Some even leave their toes to the saloon in their will.
After a donation, the toe cures for six months in salt to fully mummify. Mummified toes have a pretty long lifespan, and they can last for years as long as no one steals or swallows them. In 2017 the bar's alternate big toe deteriorated from two and a half years of constant use.