Is it safe to drink a cocktail with a frostbitten toe in it? | Food

Order a gin and tonic at any bar and you will probably be met with a series of choices: which gin, what flavour of infused tonic, what garnish. If you are at the Artesian in London, the four-time world’s best bar, your glass is also likely to come adorned with a floating pillow filled with aromatic smoke, to be pierced as you take your first sip. What you probably shouldn’t expect is a human toe in your drink.

The news on Thursday that British endurance athlete Nick Griffiths was sending his frostbitten and amputated toes to the Yukon in Canada to be sipped in a cocktail, the Sourtoe, will turn the stomachs of most. Yet it is a long-known and notorious tipple, reportedly founded during prohibition when a pair of rum-running brothers were caught in a blizzard and kept a frostbitten toe in whiskey for preservation. The jar – complete with toe intact – was then found in 1973 and, for reasons only known to Captain Dick Stevenson, he had a taste. Stevenson then decided to form a Sourtoe Club, where members are initiated once they have drunk a shot of the whiskey and the dead toe has touched their lips.

The whiskey has since changed, as have the toes, owing to thefts; in 2013, one man even swallowed the digit on purpose. Griffiths’s toes will reportedly be kept in salt for six weeks before they are served, but British GP Ben Tschobotko cautions against the Sourtoe’s safety. “I certainly wouldn’t do it myself,” he says. “I would worry about drinking it because I don’t know what pathogens might come from a severed toe. While it might be basking in alcohol, it is reused by multiple drinkers so sanitary problems could also arise from there.” Tschobotko says you can only be sure of its safety if each toe is tested in a laboratory.

Nick Griffiths, taking part in the Yukon Arctic ultra race. He lost three toes to frostbite.

Nick Griffiths, taking part in the Yukon Arctic ultra race. He lost three toes to frostbite. Photograph: Twitter/Nick Griffiths

What about the taste, though? “I couldn’t imagine anything worse; it seems almost cannibalistic, touching a dead toe to your lips,” says Michael Boyle, the director of cocktail-makers the Mixology Brothers. “It’s obviously some kind of challenge – the drink isn’t important, it’s just about finishing it. We’re trying to move away from waste in cocktails, such as unnecessary garnishes, so as much as the toe is reused, I’d still put it in the category of a useless garnish. It’s just a tourist trap.”

Apparently, 100,000 people have tried the drink at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City – including early revellers who not only had to touch the toe to their lips but put the whole appendage in their mouth and then spit it out. For Boyle, it is enough to make him teetotal: “This is the kind of drink that makes people not want to drink again.”