How to join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club – Dawson City Yukon


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The citizens of Canada’s Yukon region enjoy a reputation for wild, eccentric behavior as untamed as the surrounding wilderness. No example showcases this tendency better than the Dawson City tradition of the Sourtoe Cocktail. Joining the Sourtoe Cocktail Club is a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Sourtoe cocktail tradition

sourtoe cocktail
Join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club in Dawson City. It’s a hoot!

The practice was established in 1973 when local Captain Dick Stevenson unearthed an alcohol-preserved toe dating back to the ‘1920s mining days, in an old cabin.

He and his friends thought it was a favourable idea to serve the toe in a cocktail. 

The name is a take on Sourdough, the nickname for Yukon residents who have survived at least one winter.

The fact that 40 years later, the chance to sip the sourtoe cocktail continues to attract thousands of visitors from all over the globe speaks to the fascinating lure of the Yukon and the craziness of tourists.

These days, you can join the throngs of tourists who line up to be part of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City. 

Things people do for a toe

sourtoe cocktail certificate
Show off your Sourtoe Cocktail certificate after kissing the dead toe.

I moseyed over to the Downtown Hotel an hour before the official sourtoe cocktail kickoff of 9pm.

Inductees into the Sourtoe Cocktail Club begin to lineup early but I was there to learn the history of the tradition from the “Toe Captain,” Terry Lee.

Adorned in a long white beard, mountaineer hat and black clothes, he looked the part of the bizarre Dawson City historian.

Terry’s position requires that he knows the history and condition of each toe. So far, there have been 11.

“I’m a toe captain, I make sure the toe is in good shape I look up the person’s (toe owner) name and date,” he says.

“The toes have been stolen and swallowed and we’ve had anonymous donations. We get most of them though wills.”

The Sourtoe Cocktail toe

sourtoe cocktail toe
A dead human toe floats in the sourtoe cocktail.
sourtoe cocktail ritual
The Sourtoe Cocktail ritual is world famous.

According to Terry, the current toe is a female specimen that was severed while she was mowing the lawn in sandals.

Its mangled condition makes for a less sturdy toe.

Terry has willed his own toes for later use but he’s worried about how long this one will last. Most toes last about four years.

Anyone like to donate a toe?

Although there was a $500 fine for swallowing the toe, that hasn’t prevented a few jerks from downing the entire appendage.

The fine has recently been increased to $2,500 to discourage the behaviour.  

Gazing at the blackened, slimy toe, I can’t imagine how any sane person would let it near their lips, let alone down their throats, but Captain Terry assures me that it’s purely an exercise in mental fortitude.

“Don’t worry, the toe has been mummified,” he says. “There’s no taste and no odour. All you have to do is get past the appearance.” Right.

The Sourtoe Cocktail ritual

sourtoe cocktail club
The Sourtoe Cocktail ritual is something everyone should try in Dawson City.

In the Downtown Hotel bar, the line of willing participants snakes from the table (where the sourtoe ritual commences) to outside the door of the hotel.

There’s no shortage of volunteers. 

A bearded, flaxen-haired bartender organizes a stack of certificates that proclaims the owner as part of the elite Sourtoe Cocktail Club (100,000 members and counting).  

A battered log book to record members names sits next to the certificates. He places the shriveled toe in the center of the table, on a silver platter filled with salt.

The inductees can select their cocktail but it must contain hard liquor, with Captain Dick’s favourite Yukon Jack being the traditional choice. 

I grab a chair and watch as potential club members partake of the strange ritual.

Plopping down the $5 fee, Marcus from Berlin smiles as he cradles his shot of vodka.

The bartender solemnly recites the sourtoe rules.

“No swallowing, not past the lips, no tongue action and nothing freaky,” he explains.  “You can drink it fast or you can drink it slow, but your lips have to touch the toe.” The bartender plops the toe in the shot glass.  

Kissing the toe

sourtoe cocktail club
Join the Soutoe Cocktail Club after drinking the sourtoe cocktail abd your lips touch the toe.

My stomach turns as Marcus gulps down his drink with the toe waving eerily in the glass. But that’s not the worst part.

For me, what makes the spectacle unbearable is when the bartender grabs the toe out of the empty glass and squeezes out the last drops of alcohol so that the inductee can drink the “toe jam.”

I nearly retch at the sight. But I seem to be one of the few that’s turned off by the sourtoe cocktail.

Men and women, from Japan, from France, from the U.S. and not surprisingly, quite a few Aussies, slurp the drink with glee.

Perhaps it’s because kissing the toe “brings good luck and karma” according to Captain Terry.

Regardless of this, I do not feel compelled to join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.  

The Yukon captured me with its unconventional charm and natural beauty but I managed to survive Dawson City with my lips untouched by the grotesque sourtoe.

Discover Canada

The entry point to the Yukon Territory is Whitehorse, a city with plenty of nature-based activities on offer. The drive between Whitehorse and Dawson City is about six hours through scenic countryside.

The Yukon is famous for stunning mountainous landscape, outdoor activities and it’s one of the best places in Canada to see the Northern Lights

While in Dawson City check out these amazing Yukon hiking trails.

Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous is another fun festival to put on your list.

sourtoe cocktail
Sourtoe Cocktail – have you tried it?

How to join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club


  1. I’m a member of the club. I drank mine with a shot of Yukon Jack. There was nothing to it. The toe was just a brown blob with an ugly toenail floating around in the alcohol.

  2. I thought this article sounded intriguing and I was right. I have never in my life heard of anything as strange as the Sourtoe Cocktail Club! The photograph of the current toe is really gross but I can see why it attracts so many tourists. The drinking of the cocktail has a real adventurer’s kick to it; I think that I would definitely try it, especially if I had travelled all that way.

  3. This reminds me so much of the olden times! I always was fascinated with the 1800’s and early 1900’s before technology boomed. People complain about having nothing to do and it amazes me. We have so much more now then back then yet the best traditions came from these times. We need to all go kiss the toe! haha

  4. LOL, this is completely insane, don’t you think? I am always one for great traditions and most likely would do it one time to join the crowd, but wow!

  5. Wow. I am not sure what to say about this. As I read through the article, I was just freaked about the toe, but as I learned more about it, it really seems like a neat tradition and a club that might be worth joining just to say you did it once. At one time, I am sure it was a very rare club to be in, but now it has grown in popularity as I am sure it is shared via social media all the time.

  6. I am from northern Wisconsin and I thought there were some very weird traditions around these parts. Those Canadians really have one up on us with this one that is for sure! I cannot wait to tell my friends about this one.

  7. Oh man! That first image almost made me lose my lunch 🙂 A very strange tradition to say the least, but it goes on a long list of traditions that are similar that you can find anywhere in the world!


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