The story of the Sourtoe Cocktail came to light again last month, when Nick Griffiths, from Britain, who was taking part in the Yukon Arctic ultra-marathon in northwest Canada, developed frostbite and had to have three toes amputated. When told this news, he made the extraordinary decision to donate his toes to the Downtown Hotel, Dawson City, to make their world famous Sourtoe Cocktail. Our interest was piqued by this interesting news feature; surely this has to a hoax? Bizarrely, this is absolutely true. So, we just had to find out more.
The Sourtoe Cocktail began life back in the 1920s; it was the time of prohibition, moonshine and rum running was the only way to get your hands on some liquor and make some cash. The Linken brothers, Louie and Otto, were caught out one night in a blizzard during a cross border delivery. In the swirling snow, and biting cold, the dog team were struggling, so Louie stepped off the sledge to help and put his foot through a patch of ice, soaking his foot. By the time the pair stumbled home, poor Louie’s big toe was frozen. His quick thinking brother, Otto, took a wood axe to his brother’s toe to prevent gangrene from developing. Thankfully, there was some ovenproof rum to help with the anaesthesia. In an act of remembrance for surviving the night, Otto put Louie’s toe in a jar of alcohol to preserve it- as you do. The events of that night passed into history, long forgotten until,
so the legend goes, it was discovered in 1973, by Captain Dick Stevenson. Apparently, it was the captain who devised the cocktail and the Sourtoe Club. Membership had, and still does have, but one requirement, “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe.”
Joining the club is now seen as a rite of passage for visitors to Dawson City. Since 1973, the club has acquired over ten toes - all via donations. The honour of administering the Sourtoe Cocktail goes to Toe Captain Terry, a grizzled old Yukoner, welcoming in thousands of thrill-seeking tourists to this exclusive club every year. According to the Dawson City website, there are over 100,000 members.
There is always someone for whom the thrill is not enough. In 2013, Joshua Clark, a writer from New Orleans, decided that the drink alone was not sufficient, he was going to swallow the toe too. And he did! Then he cheerfully paid the $500 fine. One has to assume that the threat of this must have been considered if there was a fine in existence??
In case you fancy joining this club, here’s how to according to The Sourtoe Cocktail Club, written by Alex Edghill.
Step 1 Come down to the Sourdough Saloon and ask for Captain River Rat
Step 2 Purchase a shot (most club members prefer Yukon Jack)
Step 3 Pledge the ‘Sourtoe Oath’
Step 4 Watch as a (genuine) dehydrated toe is dropped in your drink
Step 5 Drink your Sourtoe Cocktail
Be sure to remember the most important rule: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe”
1 ounce (minimum) of alcohol
1 dehydrated toe
Garnish with courage
Drink it at your peril...
Edghill, A. (2014) Sourtoe Cocktail Club, https://dawsoncity.ca/attraction/sourtoe-cocktail-club/ - accessed 13/06/2019
‘Briton mails severed toes to Canada for use in notorious cocktail’ , theguardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/13/briton-mails-severed-toes-to-canada-for-use-in-notorious-cocktail
Photograph: Twitter/Nick Griffiths
Other two photos are Courtesy of Downtown Hotel