The Sourtoe Cocktail: Yes, It's An Actual Human Toe In A Drink
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And now we head up across the Canadian border to the Yukon to hear the tale of the sour toe cocktail. The story goes that back in the 1920s, a rum runner in the Yukon preserved his amputated, frostbitten toe in a jar of alcohol in his cabin. Fifty years later, someone found that mummified digit. And, somehow, it became the essential ingredient of the signature drink at the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City.
Well, last Saturday, someone at the bar ordered the sour toe cocktail and made off with the toe. Police have launched an investigation. And joining us to explain is Terry Lee. He is the toe master at the saloon. Terry Lee, what exactly does a toe master do?
TERRY LEE: Well, a toe master administers the toe to clients. And, also, I take care of the paperwork. And I take care of the toe, make sure it's in good shape and well-preserved. I change the salt once a week on it. Any new toes come in - there's a procedure you have to do to get it what's called necrotic, which is completely mummified, before you can serve it.
BLOCK: You said when new toes come in.
BLOCK: You have more than one toe.
LEE: OK. Right now we don't have any big toes. A big toe was swallowed in 2013 on purpose. And then we were using the alternate toe, but that only lasted for about two and a half years and just literally fell apart. So now we're working on what we call the secondary toes next to the big toe. So we're looking for big toes. If anybody out there has an extra big toe, we would really like it.
BLOCK: And, apart from the toe, what exactly goes into a sour toe cocktail.
LEE: OK. According to Yukon Health, it has to be served in 80-proof alcohol. So that could be whiskey, rum, tequila. The traditional is Yukon Jack. Captain Dick Stevenson's favorite drink - he's the guy who started the toe in 1973.
BLOCK: This was all his idea, huh?
LEE: This was his idea.
BLOCK: And you actually get takers. This is a popular thing.
LEE: OK. Our number right now is - 71,468 people have done the two since 1973.
BLOCK: And to do the toe, meaning - besides having the drink, are there any rules involved?
LEE: Yes, we have warning signs that you can't swallow the toe. If you swallow the toe, it's a $2,500 fine.
BLOCK: I'm not seeing the appeal, I have to say. Try to talk me into it.
LEE: You have to be here. Dawson City is a very unique town anywhere in the world. And it's a frontier town. People in frontier towns do crazy things, especially if you stay the winter because your brain is probably half frozen.
BLOCK: What do you think would motivate somebody who orders the sour toe cocktail to actually go ahead and take a toe, Terry?
LEE: Well, there's all kinds of people in the world.
BLOCK: Yes, there are (laughter).
LEE: This guy was probably drunk. It was late at night.
BLOCK: I'm thinking you probably have to be pretty drunk to drink the sour toe cocktail in the first place.
LEE: Oh, no. There's people that come in here that don't drink period. And they do the toe.
BLOCK: They do the toe.
LEE: They do the toe.
BLOCK: So you're looking for a big toe.
BLOCK: Well, the call has gone out to our NPR listeners, who are either going to be repulsed or intrigued by what you're talking about here, Terry Lee.
BLOCK: That's toe master Terry Lee speaking with us from the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City, Yukon. Terry, good luck. Thanks so much.
LEE: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: And this just in. Apparently, the toe-napper was feeling guilty. Soon after our interview ended, the wayward toe arrived in the mail back at the saloon, complete with a letter of apology stating in part, I was way too drunk. The Mounties say no charges will be filed.
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