Just when you think that Brooklyn is on the cutting edge of the fancy drink scene, you realize that the really avant-garde things are happening in a tiny little town in the Yukon Territory of all places. The whole bar-as-speakeasy and bespoke cocktail movement might still be alive and well in Brooklyn, but there’s nothing really new about it, you know? There’s nothing about drinking a Vieux Carré at Weatherup that’s really so adventurous. Because, as satisfying as the perfectly mixed Manhattan is, it still doesn’t contain a pickled and severed human body part.
Now, that’s what I call an artisanal ingredient.
The Wall Street Journal reports on a little bar—the Sourdough Saloon—in Dawson City, Yukon Territory where patrons partake in a drink called The Sourtoe. The Sourtoe is so singular a beverage that those who imbibe it are prone to saying things like, “this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” Or “I got it in my mouth a little.”
“It” is a human toe. The legend behind the Sourtoe is as colorful as you would hope. In 1973, the drink’s creator, one Captain Dick “River Rat” Stevenson, “found a severed big toe preserved in a pickle jar in a cabin outside of town.” Instead of tossing the toe aside as someone without much imagination would have done, Captain Dick came up with the rules of the Sourtoe, “take a beer glass full of champagne, drop in the toe, tip the glass back…and the toe must touch the lips.”
And that’s how you make a legendary cocktail. The Yukon Territory is experiencing a bit of a population surge right now as gold prices have spiked and people rush in to stake their claims. So the Sourtoe is getting a lot of—much deserved—attention. And any health fears can be dismissed because, “while it may sound unsanitary, the toes are pickled for months in medical alcohol and then packed in dry salts. ‘There is no issue with the toe,’ says Patricia Living, communications director for Yukon Health and Social Services. ‘The risk of freezing on the way to the bar or being attacked by a pack of wolves would be higher.’”
Despite that ringing endorsement of the safety of the Sourtoe, I remain a little bit skeptical. But that might just be because I’m a weak-stomached American who is prone to thinking that I have rabies every time my mouth is a little bit dry even though it’s virtually impossible to get rabies when you have zero interaction with wildlife or nature in general.
So, I asked one of Canada’s native sons what he would do. Brooklyn Magazine editor-in-chief Jonny Diamond, who has maple syrup running through his veins, had this to say. “I’m not all that squeamish about stuff like that. I’d probably do it, if I found myself in that bar.”
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen