sourtoe cocktail

The history of the Sourtoe Cocktail and how it became Canada's most unusual drink

The Sourtoe Cocktail is a drink with an actual human toe in it.You can only get it in one place in the world and that's right here in Canada at a bar in Dawson City, Yukon.

It comes with a real frostbitten toe. 

Proudly served at the Downtown Hotel since 1973, the cocktail comes with one very specific rule.

"You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe," general manager Adam Gerle said in an interview with Freshdaily. 

While this rule is, of course, to add some fun to the experience, it is also to keep people from consuming the toe altogether which, according to Gerle, has happened. 

"Some have been lost, a couple have been swallowed, believe it or not. One was by accident, one was on purpose. People do weird things."

In explaining how the cocktail works, Gerle said that someone must first order a shot of whiskey and then take their drink to the Toe Captain, who performs a little ritual and talks about the history of the toe. 

"Then he drops the toe into the shot of whiskey and the person downs their shot, the toe touches their lips, and they've officially joined the Sourtoe Cocktail Club."

Members of the club, which now includes approximately 100,000 people, get a certificate to show off.

The tradition, said Gerle, dates all the way back to the 1930's. 

"The original toe goes back to the prohibition era, when a couple of bootleggers were rum-running in the winter, being chased by the Mounties in dog sleds and the brothers, who were the bootleggers, their sled fell through the ice," he said, adding that one brother got frostbite on his toe which had to be removed. 

According to Gerle, the brothers kept the toe as souvenir in a bottle of moonshine which was left in their cabin and discovered in 1973 by Dick Stevenson, inventor of the Sourtoe Cocktail, who brought it to Dawson City.

The drink's name stems from some famous Yukon expressions including "sourdough" which, in the Yukon means you've survived a brutal winter, said Gerle.

This expression was blended with a poem by Robert Service called "The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail" which talks about an off-putting drink. 

"A combination of sourdough, sourtoe and what kind of fancy cocktail can we come up with and there you go. It's kind of like kissing the cod in Newfoundland." 

The hotel has had to use many different toes over the years and Toe Master Terry Lee told Freshdaily that people donate their toes all the time. 

"We get them through accidents like chainsaws, lawn mowers but also from diseases like gout and diabetes," he said, adding that their current "monster" toe is three inches long.

This, of course, has garnered lots of mixed reaction from customers. 

"I wish I could put a go-pro camera on my head just to get the reactions from people because I would make a fortune off of that," Lee said. 

Next time you visit Dawson City, you'll know exactly what drink you have to try, if you're brave enough. 

Lead photo by

Visit Dawson City

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