British adventurer donates frostbitten toes to be used in traditional Yukon Sourtoe Cocktail

Warning: graphic content

Rachel Hosie
Monday 09 April 2018 09:11 BST
Severed human toe used in Canadian cocktail

A British adventurer is donating three of his frostbitten toes to a bar in the Yukon, in order to keep the tradition of serving cocktails with a toe in alive.

The Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, is famous for its Sourtoe Cocktail: a shot of whiskey garnished with a human toe. All for just $5 (£3.55).

Briton Nick Griffiths, 46, lost three of his toes to frostbite when completing the gruelling “ultramarathon” in Canada which follows the Yukon Quest Trail.

Nick Griffiths (

It’s 300 miles long, known as “the coldest marathon in the world” and this year saw participants like Griffiths facing temperatures of -54°C.

But ex-Royal Marine Griffiths had to call it a day before completing the challenge: the adventurer was left with fourth degree burns on his left foot and at one point it was thought he may lose all his toes.

In the end, only three of his toes were lost, which Griffiths has decided to donate to the Downtown Hotel, where the drink has been served since the 1970s.

Griffiths' toes (

The tradition started with two brothers, Louie and Otto Linken, who used to transport alcohol from the Yukon to Alaska in the 1920s. However when out in a blizzard one day, Louie stepped through a patch of ice which left his foot wet and cold.

He went back to the brothers’ cabin, but by the time he’d got there, his toe was fully frozen. So, they decided to remove the toe and place it in a jar of alcohol.

The toe was left there until it was found by Captain Dick Stevenson in 1973, who then came up with the idea of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club - in order to become a member of the club, you have to drink the cocktail.

The first toe was served in a beer mug with champagne, but drinking such a large quantity of alcohol meant people attempting to finish the cocktail were getting too drunk.

And there’s only one rule: “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe.”

Although your lips are meant to touch the toe, you’re absolutely not supposed to swallow it - when one man did so on purpose in 2013, he was chased out of the town. The man later came back to Dawson City, begging for forgiveness.

He wasn’t the first to swallow the toe though - it’s happened three times and anyone who does so faces a $500 (£355) fine.

The bar usually uses the same toe over and over again, so Griffiths’ donation means they’re well stocked.

The Downtown Hotel

But is the Sourtoe Cocktail safe to drink? Actually, yes.

The toes used today (unlike the original one) are preserved and kept in salt, which draws all the water out of the flesh meaning any pathogens can’t survive. It’s as if the toes have been mummified and are thus kept in tact.

The toe is returned to the jar of salt in between each person’s consumption of the cocktail, but sometimes this isn’t long enough to prevent the next person from sharing spit with the previous drinker.

To give yourself the safest conditions, best to order a double.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in