When it comes to boozing it up in the Yukon, anything goes—even toes. Yes, that’s right, a cocktail with a real severed human toe in it. One intrepid traveler (and drinker) Erik Trinidad takes on the extremity challenge.
I’m always up for a challenge, particularly when it comes to consuming food and drink—from eating live octopus in Korea to drinking fermented horse milk in Kazakhstan. But when I had heard about the ‘Sourtoe Cocktail’—a drink supposedly involving a severed human toe—I assumed it was a joke, or that perhaps the ‘toe’ was just a metaphor for something else. After all, cocktail names are known to play with language, from Fuzzy Navels to Slippery Nipples.
However, as I stood in the hotel bar where the crazy concoction is served, I learned that when it comes to boozing it up in the Yukon, anything goes—even toes…
“You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow—but the lips have gotta touch the toe,” goes the club’s rules.
Over the decades, anyone who completed the dare was initiated into the club, and today the member registration tally in the guestbook is over 70,000—a figure that continues to grow as Dawson City’s old west charm attracts more tourists. The former epicenter of 19th-century prospectors now serves as a hub of restaurants and accommodations for Gold Rush history tourists—a trend popularized by modern gold rush reality shows showing off the prospectors of today who are still active in the region.
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It was finally my turn to attempt initiation of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club after waiting in a queue of a few daring people. I sat at a table on the side of the hotel bar, across from the ‘toe captain’ who took the shriveled, dark brown toe from a dish of salt—the preservative now used to store it.
The digit may have looked like any dark hunk of dried jerky, if not for the visibility of the actual toe nail. It might have looked more aged if it was the original toe of Prospector Liken, but this was just the latest toe in a series of several, due to the occasional misfortune of someone gulping down the toe with their drink.
Next up was sourdough local John Gailey, longtime Sourtoe Cocktail Club member and my guide on the John Hall’s Alaska Gold Rush tour I was on. He had done the Sourtoe Challenge many times before—and even claims to hold the record for most Sourtoe Cocktails in a night. An old veteran of the club, he did his shot, grabbed the toe with his teeth, and moved it around with his jaw to show off his courage—or perhaps eccentric Yukon spirit.
“Why do I keep ‘toeing the line?’” he said to me. “In a word, tradition. Even though quirky, it is a Yukon tradition.”
I walked away from Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel with a Sourtoe Certificate, proving my membership as the 68,188th person inducted. I was now a part of that tradition, proud albeit a little curious—just what does one drink as a chaser after gulping down a toe?