Talk about a unique cocktail program.
An English man flew all the way to the northwestern-most province of Canada to have a special shot of whiskey served with his mummified toe.
“It sounds a lot worse than it actually is,” Nick Griffiths, a 47-year-old father-of-two and recent amputee, told InsideEdition.com. “It’s well-preserved and the whiskey is good. It's really just like having an ice cube in there."
Earlier this week, Griffiths became the first person to enjoy the drink made of his own toe, more than a year after having the appendage amputated from frostbite.
He, as well as around 30 locals and tourists who heard about the momentous celebration, enjoyed the drink at Downtown Hotel in Dawson, Yukon, a local bar made world famous for its Sourtoe Cocktail, an in-house creation that involves drinking a shot of whiskey with the preserved amputated human toe in the glass.
And you don't get bragging rights for drinking it unless the toe touches your lips.
“People are fascinated with it,” the bar’s general manager, Adam Gerle, said. “Predominantly the tourist industry in the summer that does it, but just about every local around will bring family and friends, get liquored up, and do the toe.”
So how did Griffiths’ toe end up in Downtown Hotel’s cocktail more than 4,000 miles away?
It all started in January 2018, when Griffiths was a competitor in the Yukon Arctic Ultra, a multi-day race dubbed the world’s coldest and toughest ultra-marathon.
“The weather at the time of the race was beyond cold, it got below -44 [degrees Celcius, about -47 degrees Fahrenheit] and I ended up with frostbite,” Griffiths said, adding that only one person completed the entire race that year.
By the second day and only about a fifth of the race in, he landed in Whitehorse General Hospital with frostbite on his fingertips, ears and left foot.
“I wasn’t particularly worried. I just thought it would get better. I was a bit naive,” Griffiths said. “But the doctor told me, ‘Look Nick, on your left foot, it’s about as severe as it gets.’”
After a stint in the ICU in Canada and several weeks of pain when he returned home to the U.K., Griffiths had the toes amputated.
“They were black and basically rotting off and they actually smelled horrific and the pain was really bad,” he recalled. “Eventually, they said we’re just going to have to amputate them off and that’s when I said, ‘Can I keep them?’”
Griffiths said he thought back to his time at Whitehorse General Hospital, when a nurse mentioned to him there was a local bar that’s always asking people to donate their amputated toes.
“We went through a few toes in the years,” Gerle said. “Couple got swallowed, couple got stolen or lost. After a certain amount of time, they deteriorate, so you have to retire them, so we’ve been without a big toe for three to four years now.”
Gerle explained the tradition started in the Prohibition Era, when legend has it that a rum runner was smuggling bootleg moonshine into Alaska from the other side of the border. Most provinces repealed their bans on liquor long before states in the U.S. did.
The rum runner and his brother were being chased on dogsled by Mounties, and the rum runner ended up with severe frostbite on his foot after stepping into a frozen puddle.
To prevent gangrene, his brother cut off his foot with an ax and as a souvenir, they kept one of the toes in a bottle of moonshine and left it in their cabinet.
“Fast forward to the '70s, when this old, grizzled riverboat captain went exploring and they found this ramshackle cabin,” Gerle said. “The toe was still in there, in the moonshine. Maybe they drank a little too much of that moonshine.”
The concoction was later dubbed the Sourtoe Cocktail, a play on the word “sourdough,” a respectable title for someone who has survived the Yukon River.
While dropping a severed toe into whiskey seems easy enough, it took more than a year of careful correspondence and research to figure out a way to send the body part across the Atlantic Ocean, from England to Canada.
When Griffiths finally found a way to mail it over, it was up to Terry “Toe Captain” Lee to salt and preserve it so it’s ready to serve.
“The chief medical officer of Yukon has studied the toe and said it’s safe for consumption as long as you drink it on 40 percent proof alcohol,” Gearle said. “I’m not sure the secret Terry uses to preserve it, but basically it’s desecrated on salt for weeks to dry it out.”
They explained amputated big toes have been harder to come by in recent years, since hospitals are more hesitant to release the body parts, but they are hopeful that with new preservation methods, Griffiths’ toe will last several years.
“I’m just your average bloke, I’m not nothing special, but everyone coming up to me and asking if they can have a photo with me, 'Can you sign this for me?' It’s like being a rock star,” Griffiths said.