Inventor of ‘Sourtoe’ human toe cocktail dies
Amy Woodyatt, CNN • Updated 18th November 2019
(CNN) — Dick Stevenson, the inventor of the curious “Sourtoe cocktail,” which has been served in Canada’s Yukon territory since the 1970s, has died.
Served by the Sourtoe Cocktail club at Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel, the Sourtoe is a drink with a stomach-churning twist — patrons are served a shot of alcohol with a real, mummified toe, which is dropped into the glass.
The drink was invented by Stevenson after he discovered a preserved, amputated toe in an abandoned cabin, according to the Sourtoe Cocktail club, which was established by Stevenson and his friends.
To join the club the drinkers’ lips must touch the toe, according to the club’s mantra: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe”
Since 1973, visitors of the Yukon bars have been challenged to down the drink. The club — which has over 100,000 members — has been given over 10 toes through donation. The Downtown Hotel paid tribute to Stevenson, “the founder of the Sourtoe Cocktail” on its Facebook page.
“The Downtown would like to pass on our condolences for Captain Dick Stevenson, the founder of the Sourtoe Cocktail,” the Downtown Hotel said in a statement online.
The official Twitter account of Dawson City paid tribute to Stevenson’s legacy on Twitter.
“Captain Dick was a true colorful five-percenter who changed Dawson’s brand. His legacy is cemented with the Sourtoe Cocktail, but we’ll always remember him for his undying love of Dawson City. Thanks for everything Dick, we’ll toest one for you tonight,” Visit Dawson City said in a tweet.
Admirers from around the world have offered their toes to Stevenson’s cause — the Downtown Hotel received the big toe of Nick Griffiths, a former British Marine who lost his toe during a winter ultra-marathon in 2018.
Griffiths, 47, dropped out of the 2018 Yukon Arctic Ultra after he got frostbite on his left foot due to temperatures dropping to minus 40.
While in hospital, the Briton offered to donate the toes to the hotel “in the hopes of returning to the Yukon to do the Sourtoe Cocktail with his own toe,” the Downtown Hotel said in a statement.
CNN’s Gianluca Mezzofiore contributed to this report.
Captain Dick Stevenson, inventor of Yukon’s infamous ‘Sourtoe Cocktail,’ has died
‘I thought maybe only 10 or 12 people would ever do it,’ Stevenson said of cocktail challenge
CBC News · Posted: Nov 14, 2019 6:00 PM CT | Last Updated: November 15
Captain Dick Stevenson, a true Yukon original who “invented” one of the territory’s oddest claims to fame — a drink with a severed human toe in it — has died.
According to his daughter, Dixie Stevenson, he died in Whitehorse early Thursday morning at age 89.
“I’m pretty sure I’m the only daughter in history that has to, following my dad’s will, make sure that his toes are removed and dried and make it up to Dawson City,” Dixie said on Thursday.
“As a matter of fact, I’m just on my way downtown. I have to buy containers and pickling salt.”
Captain Dick’s world-famous invention, the “Sourtoe Cocktail,” is nearly 50 years old and continues to draw brave and thirsty crowds to Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel.
Order one up and you’ll get a shot of whiskey with a gnarled old human toe bobbing in the glass. Let the toe touch your lips and you’re in the Sourtoe club — with a certificate to prove it.
“I thought maybe only 10 or 12 people would ever do it,” Captain Dick Stevenson recalled in a CBC interview in 2017.
To date, more than 90,000 people have kissed the toe.
‘We invented the Sourtoe that night’
The story goes that Stevenson bought a cabin outside of Dawson City in the early 1970s, and while cleaning it out found an old pickle jar with a dried-up human toe inside. According to Stevenson, the frostbitten digit had been cut off a prospector decades earlier.
Later, Stevenson was out drinking with some reporters and they got to talking about that toe.
“We invented the Sourtoe that night,” Stevenson recalled in 2017. “But the toe was still out in the cabin. The next morning, the reporters had forgot all about it — but I didn’t.”
The original cocktail, according to Stevenson, was a beer glass filled with champagne, and of course the toe. The whole idea was a lark, but for whatever reason, it caught on. A tradition was born.
Visitors on bus tours to the Klondike started to ask for them — a refreshment, perhaps, but also a perfect story to share back home about strange things done under the midnight sun.
“There was a lady, she must have been in her 80s, she said, ‘I don’t mind the toe, but there’s no way I could drink a beer glass full of champagne,'” Stevenson recalled in 2017.
“So we changed the rules — drink of your choice, but the toe must touch the lips.”
‘Genius for ideas’
Stevenson grew up in Nictau, N.B., and always lived a “footloose, fancy-free, very colourful life,” his daughter said.
As a young man, he hitchhiked his way across Canada, working on cattle ranches and in logging and mining camps. In 1956, he thumbed his way to Yukon and found a home in the Klondike.
He worked as a fish warden in Dawson City for a while, but then became Captain Dick when he bought a boat and began offering tours on the Yukon River. He did that until his retirement.
Artist Jim Robb — another beloved Yukon character — was a close friend. He called Stevenson “a bit of a genius for ideas.”
“He was in love with the Yukon, and his way of promoting the Yukon was really, really unusual,” Robb said.
Robb recalls one scheme Stevenson hatched years ago, to hold a “Miss Nude” contest in Dawson City.
“I don’t know how it ever turned out, maybe the police raided it or something. But anyway, he tried it. Dick would try anything, you know?”
The Sourtoe Cocktail was his greatest legacy, though. Robb recalls how it put Yukon in major newspapers all over the world.
“At first, nobody thought much of it, but it turned out to be one of the Yukon’s biggest publicity ideas,” Robb said.
Toes in a briefcase
After retirement, Stevenson spent his final years in Whitehorse, often seen cruising downtown on his motorized scooter, wearing his signature captain’s hat.
His room at the Macauley Lodge retirement home in 2017 was decorated with memorabilia from his colourful days in the Klondike. Tucked away in a briefcase, he kept an old leather-bound registry of Sourtoe club members along with a couple of dried toes.
He told of how his own big toes would eventually go to the Downtown Hotel.
“They’ve gotta wait a few years yet,” he laughed.
Dixie said it was her dad’s most important wish. She has detailed instructions on how to do it.
“He kept telling me how I’m supposed to dry his toes. So one day I said, ‘Dad, you have to come so I can type this out, because I’m not going to remember it,'” she recalled.
“So as morbid as that sounds, this is what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks.”
She said Stevenson didn’t want a funeral or memorial service — he preferred people to do their own thing, and maybe just raise a glass of whisky or Yukon Jack in his honour.
The toe, presumably, is optional.
Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Dave Croft
Man who created legendary Canadian drink made with a human toe has died
By The Canadian Press -November 17, 2019
DAWSON CITY, Yukon — The founder of the legendary Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City, Yukon, has poured his final glass of the well-known whisky-and-pickled-human-toe drink.
Dick Stevenson, the former bartender known by his nickname Captain Dick, has died. He was 89.
Stephen Lancaster, manager of the Dawson Hotel, where the Sourtoe Cocktail tradition continues, said Saturday patrons at the Sourdough Saloon and members of the community are deeply saddened by Stevenson’s passing Thursday in Whitehorse.
“When I walked into the bar last night, it was quite a sad feeling knowing that we lost somebody who was really important to the history of the place,” he said. “We are quite sad about it and want to honour him somehow, and we’re trying to figure out some way of doing that.”
Lancaster said the saloon has records of more than 93,000 brave customers who are members of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club started by Stevenson.
“You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe,” says the club membership motto, which involves drinking a shot of whisky from a glass that also contains a pickled human big toe. Lancaster said he expects the club to reach 100,000 members this summer.
Stevenson fit the image of a Yukon gold prospector, with his beard, cap and friendly and spirited demeanour, said Lancaster.
“He’s exactly like he looks,” he said. “He’s a fun, friendly guy you just want to talk to and hear his stories. We almost want to have a moment of silence to honour what he’s done here.”
Stevenson came up with the drink idea in 1973 after finding a frost-bitten human toe preserved in a jar in a cabin he purchased.
Lancaster said the Sourtoe Cocktail tradition will continue with Stevenson in the mix — his will asks his two big toes be preserved for future drinks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2019.
Remembering Capt. Dick Stevenson, the inventor of the sourtoe cocktail
STEPHANIE WADDELLNov. 18, 2019 1:20 p.m.LOCAL NEWSNEWS
The Captain, who created the drink that in turn created countless honourary Yukoners and was famous the world over, has died.
Capt. Dick Stevenson, creator of the sourtoe cocktail, died Nov. 14 at the age of 89.
“You could drink it fast, you could drink it slow, but the lips have got to touch the toe.”
Those were the words of Stevenson about his creation, which has been served in Dawson City since 1973.
The cocktail features a a preserved toe in a shot of alcohol.
While the cocktail is now served at the Downtown Hotel, for the first few years it was offered wherever Stevenson was working — first at the El Dorado Hotel and then at the Westmark before Stevenson settled in at the Downtown. He retired years ago and the drink stayed at the hotel, though Stevenson continued to bring his ideas for the sourtoe to the hotel, said general manager Adam Gerle.
“He was a really, really colourful guy,” Gerle said.
The more than 93,000 brave enough to ingest the drink and allow the toe to touch their lips received a certificate and were declared honourary Yukoners.
Word of Stevenson’s death has made it’s way around town and around the world for that matter, Gerle said. Dawsonites have been gathering at the Downtown’s bar to remember the colourful character behind the cocktail.
Legend has it that the sourtoe history actually goes back to the 1920s during prohibition when a couple brothers were running moonshine across the border via dogsled.
One of the brothers fell through the ice and survived, but was suffering from frostbite to at least one toe. Given the risk of gangrene, his brother chopped off the frostbitten toe (or toes) and put the digit in a jar filled with whiskey.
It was in the early 1970s Stevenson purchased the cabin north of Dawson where the pickled toe was found and the sourtoe cocktail was born.
Over the years, those who join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club as it’s known have touched their lips to countless toes donated to the cause.
While Gerle said hotel owners are still waiting to speak with Stevenson’s family, there is word that Stevenson willed his toes to the cocktail. Gerle said that’s something Stevenson said he would do, but it was never clear whether he was serious about it or if it might be a joke, given Stevenson’s sense of humour.
In fact, Gerle said there’s a toe-shaped urn with Stevenson’s picture “right above the bar” at the Downtown that states his year of birth with space presumably for the year of his death.
Again, Gerle said the owners are waiting to speak with the family about it.
In the meantime, the community is celebrating the life of Stevenson and his drink that continued to draw tourists to Dawson City.
It’s not too often that a purchase agreement includes a specific clause around a drink, but that was just the case for the sourtoe cocktail when Northern Vision Development (NVD) bought the hotel in 2013.
It was not long after NVD purchased the hotel that the toe was swallowed by a visitor. After that the fine for swallowing the toe rose to $2,500 from $500.
Events like that in recent years have increased interest in the toe with lineups out the door during toe-season. Gerle said he’s learned of some tourists who travel to Dawson specifically to partake in the sourtoe cocktail.
Stevenson continued to stay involved in the toe business long after moving from behind the bar of the Downtown in Dawson to Whitehorse.
He would provide NVD with copies of his book to promote the toe shot at events and at one time there was talk around creating a sourtoe whiskey.
While the logistics weren’t there for it to happen at that time, Gerle said it’s not something that was entirely ruled out for the future.
Gerle was also always happy to share the history of the toe with visitors.
“He was a charmer right to the end,” he said. In mid-March 2018 that a woman staying at the Gold Rush and making plans to visit Dawson was introduced to Stevenson by his friend Jim Robb.
Stevenson invited her to visit him at home where he had plenty of sour toe memorabilia to share, including a few pickled toes he always kept on hand, Gerle said.
In September, Nick Griffiths, who had donated his toes to the cause after he lost them in the Yukon Arctic Ultra, came to the territory to become of a member of the club, putting his lips to his own toes and visited with Stevenson in Whitehorse.
“Dick got a kick out of that,” Gerle said.
The bar is planning a tribute to Stevenson in the future.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at [email protected]
Creator of the Sourtoe Cocktail Dies, Donates His Toes to Bar to Keep Creepy Drink Tradition Going
Captain Dick Stevenson was 89 years old
By Robyn Merrett November 18, 2019 08:11 PM
Captain Dick Stevenson — the creator of Sourtoe Cocktail has died. He was 89.
Stevenson, known by his nickname Captain Dick, died Thursday morning, his daughter Dixie Stevenson confirmed to The Globe and Mail and CBC.
The former bartender’s legacy, however, will live forever.
Dixie explained to The Globe and Mail that in her father’s will, he asked that all 10 of his toes be taken to the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Canada where the cocktail is served.
“I’m pretty sure I’m the only daughter in history that has to, following my dad’s will, make sure that his toes are removed and dried and make it up to Dawson City,” Dixie told CBC.
The famous drink consists of a shot of whiskey garnished with an amputated and preserved human toe.
Stevenson came up with the idea in 1973 after finding a jar with a preserved toe in it left behind in a cabin he had just purchased it, according to CBC and The Globe and Mail.
The concept took off and became the Downtown Hotel bar’s most popular drink, having been served to over 93,000 customers, according to The Globe and Mail. The drink even became a rite of passage for many as several visitors have donated their own toes to the bar.
WARNING: Some readers may find the image below disturbing
Sourtoe Cocktail COURTESY DOWNTOWN HOTEL
The original drink was a beer glass filled with champagne and the toe, but Stevenson explained to CBC in 2017 that he changed the rules.
“There was a lady, she must have been in her 80s, she said, ‘I don’t mind the toe, but there’s no way I could drink a beer glass full of champagne,’” Stevenson told CBC. “So we changed the rules — drink of your choice, but the toe must touch the lips.”
Once the task is complete, a person can be inducted into the Sourtoe club and will receive a certificate, confirming the honor.
Dixie explained to The Globe and Mail that the drink was her father’s “life.”
“That was his life: inventor of the Sourtoe Cocktail,” Dixie said.
“He didn’t care anything about the money, he just wanted the fame to go on for the rest of history,” Dixie continued to the outlet adding, “It brought him the most fame of anything he’s ever done. Worldwide pretty much.”
Dixie also shared with The Globe and Mail that before his death, Stevenson commissioned a local artist to make a toe-shaped urn for his ashes. He then had a carpenter make a platform for the urn and it has already been installed above the Downtown Hotel bar.
Stevenson will certainly be missed as Stephen Lancaster, manager of the Downtown Hotel, explained to The Globe and Mail that members of the community are planning to honor him in a special way.
Lancaster went on to reiterate Stevenson’s motto for the drink saying, “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”
Dawson City has also paid tribute to the cocktail pioneer on Twitter writing, “Captain Dick was a true colorful five-percenter who changed Dawson’s brand. His legacy is cemented with the Sourtoe Cocktail, but we’ll always remember him for his undying love of Dawson City. Thanks for everything Dick, we’ll toest one for you tonight.”
By Robyn Merrett