Some drinks are only suitable for the strongest of stomachs. While most shots are always mildly revolting, there are a few weapons in every mixologist’s arsenal that can turn even the most seasoned drinker green. However, for all the slippery nipples and B52s of this world, there’s one shot that dominates the disgusting drinkscape. And it’s got nothing to do with booze.
Since 1973, the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Canada, has built a fearsome reputation on the back of its signature drink. The infamous Sourtoe Cocktail features a single shot of whisky, complete a blackened, mummified human big toe. The official laws of the bar dictate that anyone wishing to get the full, grotesque Sourtoe experience must “touch the toe” with their lips as they drink.
The fabled beverage has attracted masochistic patrons from across the world and its origins remain shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that the first toe came from an old rum smuggler, who lost his appendage to frostbite and preserved it in a handy jam jar. The jar was then rediscovered in the 70s by local riverboat captain Dick ‘River Rat’ Stephenson, who donated it to the Downtown Hotel and participated in the first ever Sourtoe challenge. Today, more than 100,000 drinkers have joined the exclusive club.
Over the years, the toe challenge has undergone a number of transformations. The first digit only lasted seven years before it needed to be replaced. In 1980, patron Garry Younger was in the midst of a drinking spree before he stepped up to the plate and tried to tackle the toe. Unfortunately, on his 13th glass of Sourtoe Champagne, Younger slipped backwards and accidentally swallowed it, prompting a horrified silence from the rest of the bar.
Several more toes have been donated to replace the original over the years. Toe three, donated by another frostbite victim, was also mistakenly swallowed, while toe seven arrived at the bar with a message warning of the dangers of mowing the lawn in open sandals. The challenge has become a part of the community, and the search for toes has become as legendary as the drink itself. Local adverts constantly request toe donations and many residents continue to bequeath their amputated parts to the Downtown Hotel to this day.
Despite the general sense of pride that surrounds the horrifying drink, there are some ugly side effects to infamy. In 2017, it was reported that one out of towner, after persuading the bar to allow an attempt at the challenge outside designated “toe-time”, stole the bar’s prize toe and attempted to sell it online. This was not the first time that someone had attempted to make off with hotel property. Local law enforcement were called and the bar were less than impressed - imposing a fine of $2,500 on the perpetrator.
Fortunately, the hotel’s supply of generously donated back-up toes means that the tradition remains as strong as ever. With such a storied drink still available, one thing is clear: no trip to Canada is complete without the Sourtoe experience.