You may have heard of it in passing. Whispers of a drink so strange it simply can’t be true. “You’re kidding! Is that even legal?!” – is the most common reaction. I’m talking about the Sourtoe Cocktail. Take one highball glass, fill it with a liquor of your choice and drop one severed human toe into the drink. The Jagerbomb’s got nothing on this. It’s sort of become a viral phenomenon – and people travel from all over the world to Dawson City, Yukon to join the Sourtoe Cocktail club.
Welcome to the Home of the Sourtoe Cocktail
Walking into the Downtown Hotel (Corner of Second St & Queen) – it’s clear you’re in the home of the toe. A giant wooden carving of a severed toe hangs above the bar, inscribed on the carved statue is a Capt. River Rat’s name, along with his year of birth, and an awaiting year of death. It would appear the Captain is still kicking it. I think to myself – “Good to know – surely he’s lost count of how many he’s done and if he’s still alive, how bad can it be!”
I’m greeted by a friendly young lady who has earned the title of “Sourtoe Captain” – her job is to encourage patrons of the bar to enjoy a Sourtoe Cocktail, and upon their agreement, bring them to the back of the bar and initiate them into the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. People gather around the back, waiting for the next person to join the club.
She tries luring me in with her cute eyes, I smile and politely decline “Just spectating for now thanks, probably tomorrow night!” – “But I won’t be here tomorrow night, you’ll have someone else…” she replies. After a bit of back and forth I eventually find myself in the chair at the back of the bar, starring at a severed, wrinkly, pickled human toe. Surprisingly the toe isn’t all that creepy as a whole, it’s just the nail. Dead people’s nails look ridiculously disgusting.
One Jack Daniels with a twist of Sourtoe
The bartender offers me a glass – “Yukon Jack?” she asks –”Jack Daniels please“, I reply. She pours me two fingers and brings back my highball to the table. I smell the oaky tones of JD and hope it’s enough to mask the taste of dead people. I then made a promise to myself, this is the closest I’ll ever get to cannibalism. She picks up the severed human toe, and drops it into my glass. It bounces gently on the bottom of the highball glass. I make eye contact with the toe, then The Captain passes me the traditional Sourtoe chapeau. I slap it on, give her the thumbs up just as she starts to speak the words that seal me in as a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.
I hear my cue – “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – But your lips have got to touch the toe.” – I pick up the highball and bring it to my face, slowly pouring the warm JD down my throat, savouring the burn. The toe falls from the bottom of the glass and touches my lips and I decide to hold it there for a couple seconds. Make it official – and likely get a neat photo in the process. The crowd that’s gathered around me cheers as I release the glass from my lips and place it back upon the table. The toe sits upright in the bottom of the glass, as if it’s saluting me for my accomplishment.
A Sourtoe Cocktail with The Captain
As I recover from the burn of the drink, I shake my head in debelief and ask The Captain – “How many times have you done the Sourtoe Cocktail?” – she looks down shyly – “Only twice…” – I reply “You should do it again! Do a Sourtoe with us!“. After a few prodding words of encouragement from me, she says “What the hell! It’s been a while!“. Her drink is prepared and she asks me to read her in – the script is thankfully printed on my newly minted certificate.
I ask politely “Can we trade hats? Your’s look more official.” – she hesitates, assessing whether I’m worthy of wearing the Captain’s hat. She slowly removes it from her head and passes it to me. I slap on the awesome Captain hat with a big smile and belt out the initiation words. She slams a Sourtoe Cocktail like a champ – “Clearly not her first time”, I think to myself. The Captain sticks her hand out “Hat…” she says. I pass her the Captain’s hat and she slaps it back on, adjusting it slightly, laughing – “You don’t know how many people try to get me to do a Sourtoe Cocktail with them, you guys got lucky!”
Member No. 44,119 & Counting
As I get up out of my chair, thanking her for the experience, another patron sits down. The Sourtoe Cocktail practically sells itself. It’s an experience. One of those unique & quirky things you don’t want to leave Dawson City without doing. You’ll be happy to hear that once you pay to do the Sourtoe Cocktail once (Cost of $5 + drink cost), you can do them free for the rest of your life – you only have to pay the cost of the drink. Did I mention you get a Sourtoe Cocktail Club card? I keep mine beside my health card.
The History of the Sourtoe Cocktail
In the early 1970’s, this wild Yukon character (originally from New Brunswick) named Captain Dick Stevenson a.k.a Captain River Rat, found a preserved severed human toe in an old cabin near Dawson City and had the bright idea of turning it into a drink. People who knew Captain Dick guffawed, saying – “Nobody will do that, you’re crazy!” – while he may stretch the definition of sane, turns out everyone was wrong. The Sourtoe Cocktail became an immediate hit, and it wasn’t long before people were sucking them back like they were going out of style.
Originally the Sourtoe Cocktail was done in a pint of champagne, but it has since evolved into a highball of liquor, typically whiskey; however, they’ll drop the toe in just about anything – including Virgin Sourtoe Cocktails. They’ve gone through 4 human toes already, one was lost, one was stolen, and yes, one was even swallowed! While there’s been a few minor changes to the initiation, one rule remains the same. The drinker’s lips must touch the toe. As the initiation process so boldly proclaims “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow – But your lips have got to touch the toe.”