Yes, There is a Human Toe in the Infamous Sourtoe Cocktail (Video)

Drinking the SourToe cocktail from the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson, City

People do the craziest things. Just look at reality television.

But who am I to judge?  I joined the ranks of over 74,000 other nut jobs who’ve downed the famous Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City. (If you haven’t heard, that’s a whiskey shot garnished with a desiccated human toe.)

What can I say? I’m a sheep.

SourToe Challenge. Sourdough Saloon in Dawson, City

A Little History

The origin of the Sourtoe can be traced to the 1940’s. Legend has it that Otto and Louie Linken, two Yukon rum-runners outside of Dawson City, had been trapped in a blizzard. Louie, contracted frostbite and as any loving brother would, Otto chopped off the offending toe with an axe. Preserving it for posterity, they plopped it in a jar of alcohol.

Fast forward to 1972, Dawsonite Captain Dick Stevenson, finds the pickled toe and has a light-bulb moment.  A stroke of twisted genius. Why not put the toe in a glass of champagne and charge people to drink it? (I know. Utterly insane.)

The hook: to complete the challenge, the toe must touch their lips. He went to a friend’s bar (today it’s at the Sourdough Saloon in the Downtown Hotel) and together they agreed to see who would bite (figuratively speaking). The first year, eight brave souls manned up and the World Famous SourToe cocktail was born. Years later, on a warm Saturday night in July, I became the 73,478th wackadoodle to join the club.

Me and The SourToe Cocktail

I’d read about the Sourtoe while researching my trip. From all the coverage online, which far outdid any other mentions of Dawson, it seemed to be the city’s calling card, which in retrospect is a shame considering there’s so much more this remote town offers.

I told myself I wasn’t going to do it. I thought it was a bizarre marketing ploy reminiscent of a bad fraternity stunt. But once there, when my travel companions said they were taking the challenge, I faced two choices: be the biggest party pooper ever or join in.

I ordered a shot of Yukon Gold and got in line.

The Big Moment

It was nearing 11 pm and my turn was just a few cocktails away. Ahead of me were my two friends and a couple of strangers lined up in front of a table on the bar’s mezzanine.

My eyes roamed over the signs tacked on the red-flocked wallpaper behind it: “73,425 served.”  “Man the Feck up! It’s the Sourtoe Cocktail!” Guests were warned not to swallow the toe or face a $2500 fine. (If you don’t believe someone would do ever do that, someone did. On purpose. Again, people do crazy things.)

Terry Lee, Dawson’s longtime Toe Master, a slight, wrinkled, white-haired old man with a scraggly beard, a sea captains hat, and glasses, looked as cinematic as one could hope for the occasion. Taking his responsibilities very seriously, he asked each person their name, dutifully writing it down on a certificate, verification of the person’s entry into the SourToe club—assuming the effort was successful.

I sat down whiskey in hand. Between us sat the digit resting on a large pile of salt. Shriveled and brown (a second toe perhaps?) it looked like a skinny date. That’s not so bad I thought. I’d imagined a flesh-colored big toe. That would have freaked me out.

The Toe Master looked at me with dead seriousness, his piercing eyes locked with mine.

“Are you ready, Susan?”

“I am!” I countered.

He picked up the toe. Circling it in front of my eyes and said, “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch this gnarly toe!”

And then….

Oh heck.. here’s the video…

Sourtoe Certificate from the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson, City
I’m legit!

Et Voilà.

My Take

Surprisingly, I had fun. Would I have done it on my own? Hell no. But with friends capping a night out it was a worthwhile endeavor. The kind of experience travel is all about. And not taking myself so seriously, well, that was good too.

How you can take the Sourtoe challenge

During the summer, you can take the Sourtoe challenge every night between 9pm and 11pm at the Sourdough Saloon at the corner of Second and Queen in the Downtown Hotel.

The cost is $5.00 Canadian plus whatever drink you choose to go with it. Most order whiskey. I can vouch for Yukon Gold (also only $5.00 Canadian). It’s very smooth.

SourToe donation, Sourdough Saloon in Dawson, City
In case you’re interested

25 thoughts on “Yes, There is a Human Toe in the Infamous Sourtoe Cocktail (Video)

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Well, it really wasn’t bad. The toe was shriveled and looked like a fig. It didn’t alter the taste of the whiskey and for the 2 seconds it touched my lips.. well, not a big deal. LOL

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Ha! I love that you love it. And yes, totally disgusting. Isn’t it crazy that so many people go out of their way to do it?

  1. Laura (PA Pict) says:

    You are awesome! I love that you just went for it. I just showed my kids the video and now they want us all to do the sourtoe challenge. I guess, therefore, if I ever find myself in Dawson City, it will have to happen. It’s hilarious that they have had different toes over the years and had a back-up toe ready when that (strange!) man decided to deliberately swallow one. I am sure there is a story to be told in just the accumulation of toes.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      LOL.. I think your kids need to wait awhile. LOL.. It’s such a crazy rite of passage. And you’ll DEFINITELY need to do it if you end up there. 🙂

      • Laura (PA Pict) says:

        Oh yes. That experience is definitely some years off for many reasons but I do like to encourage them to have a travel bucket list that includes big ticket items and more characterful, “roadside” type experiences.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Well, that would definitely be a deterrent. No finger’s yet but there is a drink with dog-sled balls in it. That’s definitely where I draw the line.

  2. K.M. Sutton says:

    I have no idea WHAT to think except you go girl! I am not sure if I would be brave enough to do this, but I applaud your dare devil self and I definitely enjoyed reading this! <3

  3. dvn ms kmz time travel says:

    I think I threw up in my mouth a little… As I was reading this, the adventurer in me kept saying you would totally do this! I was enthralled. And then I watched the video… I’m not woman enough. Kiddos to you for going the distance and thank you for letting me live vicariously through your experience, because whether I have the chance to visit or not- this will never be a reality for me.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Ha!! I thought it would be far more gross than it was, surprisingly. LOL.. But glad I could take one for the team. 🙂

  4. orange854 says:

    Life is short, live it.
    Love is rare, grab it.
    Anger is bad , dump it
    Fear is awful , face it.
    Truth is good, tell it .

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