2020 Alcan 5000 Rally Memories: The Sourtoe Cocktail

It’s been nearly a year since we participated in the mother-of-all-winter rallies, the 2020 Alcan 5000. We’ve been reflecting on some of our favorite moments and are putting together some fun memories. One of these was our night in Dawson City, YT Canada and the infamous Sourtoe Cocktail.

The inside of the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City, YT Canada.
The Sourdough Saloon. Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal.

After our 350 mile drive from Whitehorse, YT, and an afternoon of ice racing on the Yukon River, the Alcan 5000 Winter Rally participants were going to have an overnight in Dawson City. This historic frontier town is known for a host of things. This includes an old-timey downtown, its location on the Yukon River, its proximity to the Dempster Highway, and the Sourdough Saloon serving the most infamous beverage in the territory if not North America. This would be the Sourtoe Cocktail.

What Is The Sourtoe Cocktail?

The mummified toe for the Sourtoe Cocktail.
Yes, that’s the toe. Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal

According to the Dawson City website, the beverage was first served in 1973. More than 100,000 people have touched their lips to the severed mummified human toe submerged in booze. Yes, you read that right. That’s what this is: A human toe in liquor. The toe is traditionally served in Yukon Jack, a 100-proof honey whiskey liqueur, but you can have your cocktail with any 100 proof booze, but it must be at least 100 proof.

There are rules as recited by Johnny “The Captain” in the video. One of them is don’t swallow that toe. It’s a $2,500 fine if you do.

The Dawson City website says the original sourtoe dates back to the 1920s and features a rum-runner named Louie Linken and his brother, Otto. Allegedly during one of their deliveries, they ran into a blizzard. While directing his dog team, Louie stepped off the sled into some icy overflow, soaking his foot. Fearing the police, they continued on their journey. The prolonged exposure caused Louie’s big toe to be frozen solid. To prevent gangrene, Otto amputated the toe with a woodcutting ax (and some overproof rum for anesthesia). To commemorate this event, the brothers preserved the toe in a jar of alcohol.

While cleaning out an abandoned cabin, the toe was apparently discovered by a Captain Dick Stevenson. After conferring with friends, the Sourtoe Cocktail Club was established and the rules developed. Since its inception, the club has acquired more than 10 toes, all donated, obviously.

Participating in the Sourtoe Cocktail ceremony is pretty much a right of passage for travelers going through Dawson City. A feeling of anticipation filled the room as we all entered to touch our lips to “the gnarly toe.” Are we really going to do this? How nasty is this! But if you’re going for a drink, you pretty much have to do this.

Alcan 5000 Rally participants at the Sourdough Saloon after drinking the Sourtoe Cocktail
Six people (including Mercedes and me in the middle) now in the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.

Both Mercedes and I joined the cocktail club as did our friends JR and Judy Russell and Garrett and Kristen Arendt … and many other Alcan 5000 participants. We even have the certificates to prove it.

The Most Random Vending Machine

The second part of the video was hilarious to me. Admittedly, we had a few drinks that night in the Sourdough Saloon. I mean “When in Rome,” right? As we left the bar I noticed what could be the world’s most diversified vending machine. From condoms to cookies, razors to roast beef sandwiches, beverages to bandaids, this thing had a veritable endless bounty of amenities for the weary Yukon traveler. While 12 year old me giggled at the idea of getting personal lubricant, Pepto Bismol, and a pocket knife out of the same machine, it does makes sense. Dawson City isn’t big. It’s remote. And frankly, sometimes you just need a bottle of Piña Colada mix when it’s twenty below zero in the wild Yukon.

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