The Sour Toe Cocktail and The Ballad of the Iceworm Cocktail …

Most any fraternity requires some kind of initiation or ritual to acquire membership – and the Old West is full of such lore.
So is the Old North.
One such rite will make you and honorary Sourdough: The Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City, Yukon Territory
It’s a bit of a spin-off from Robert Service famous poem The Iceworm Cocktail.
And a bit of fun. Have a look.

The Sour Toe Cocktail .. Captain Dick
Captain Dick … and ‘The Toe’
The Sour Toe Cocktail ... Downtown Hotel, Dawson, Yukon
The Downtown Hotel in … well, downtown Dawson … Yukon Territory
The Sour Toe Cocktail ... The Toe
‘The Toe’ … mmmmmm … yeah !
The Sour Toe Cocktail Certifcate
The Sour Toe Cocktail Certifcate
The Sour Toe Cocktail ... Wallet Card
The Sourtoe Cocktail Wallet Card … yep

It’s said they’ve gone through quite a few toes over the years … some have been swallowed … accidentally … and deliberately.

Robert Service
Robert Service

The Ballad of the Ice Worm Cocktail

By Robert Service

To Dawson Town came Percy Brown from London on the Thames.
A pane of glass was in his eye, and stockings on his stems.
Upon the shoulder of his coat a leather pad he wore,
To rest his deadly rifle when it wasn’t seeking gore;
The which it must have often bee, for Major Percy Brown,
According to his story was a hunter of renown,
Who in the Murrumbidgee wilds had stalked the kangaroo
And killed the cassowary on the plains of Timbuctoo
And now the Arctic fox he meant to follow to its lair,
And it was also his intent to beard the Arctic hare….
Which facts concerning Major Brown I merely tell because
I fain would have you know him for the Nimrod that he was.

Now Skipper Grey and Deacon White were sitting in the shack,
And sampling of the whisky that pertained to Sheriff Black.
Said Skipper Grey: “I want to say a word about this Brown:
The piker’s sticking out his chest as if he owned the town.”
Said Sheriff Black: “He has no lack of frigorated cheek;
He called himself a Sourdough when he’d just been here a week.”
Said Deacon White: “Methinks you’re right, and so I have a plan
By which I hope to prove to-night the mettle of the man.
Just meet me where the hooch-bird sings, and though our ways be rude
We’ll make a proper Sourdough of this Piccadilly dude.”
Within the Malamute Saloon were gathered all the gang;
The fun was fast and furious, and loud the hooch-brid sang.
In fact the night’s hilarity had almost reached its crown,
When into its storm-centre breezed the gallant Major Brown.
And at the apparition, with its glass eye and plus-fours.
From fifty alcoholic throats resounded fifty roars.
With shouts of stark amazement and with whoops of sheer delight,
They surged around the stranger, but the first was Deacon White.
“We welcome you,” he cried aloud, “to this the Great White Land.
The Arctic Brotherhood is proud to grip you by the hand.
Yea, sportsman of the bull-dog breed, from trails of far away,
To Yukoners this is indeed a memorable day.
Our jubilation to express, vocabularies fail….
Boys, hail the Great Cheechaco!” And the boys responded: “Hail!”

“And now,” continued Deacon White to blushing Major Brown,
“Behold assembled the eelight and cream of Dawson Town.
And one ambition fills their hearts and makes their bosoms glow-
They want to make you, honoured sir, bony feed Sourdough.
The same, some say, is one who’s seen the Yukon ice go out,
But most profound authorities the definition doubt.
And to the genial notion of this meeting, Major Brown,
A Sourdough is a guy who drinks…an ice-worm cocktail down.”

“By Gad!” responded Major Brown, “that’s ripping, don’t you know.
I’ve always felt I’d like to be a certified Sourdough.
And though I haven’t any doubt your Winter’s awf’ly nice,
Mayfair, I fear, may miss me ere the break-up of your ice.
Yet (pray excuse my ignorance of matters such as these)
A cocktail I can understand-but what’s an ice-worm, please?”

Said Deacon White: “It is not strange that you should fail to know,
Since ice-worms are peculiar to the Mountain of Blue Snow.
Within the Polar rim it rears, a solitary peak,
And in the smoke of early Spring (a pectacle unique)
Like flame it leaps upon the sight and thrills you through and through,
For though its cone is piercing white, its base is blazing blue.
Yet all is clear as you draw near-for coyly peering out.
Are hosts and hosts of tiny worms, each indigo of snout.

And as no nourishment they find, to keep themselves alive
They masticate each other’s tails, till just the Tough survive.
Yet on this stern and Spartan fare so rapidly they grow,
That some attain six inches by the melting of the snow.
Then when the tundra glows to green and nigger-heads appear.
They burrow down and are not seen until another year.

“A toughish yarn,” laughed Major Brown, “As well you may admit.
I’d like to see this little beast before I swallow it.”
“ ‘Tis easy done,” said Deacon White. “Ho! Barman, haste and bring
Us forth some pickled ice-worms of the vintage of last Spring.”
But sadly still was Barman Bill, then sighed as one bereft:
“There’s been a run on cocktails, Boss; there ain’t an ice-worm left.
Yet wait…By gosh! It seems to me that some of extra size
Were picked and put away to show the scientific guys.”

Then deeply in a drawer he sought, and there he found a jar,
The which with due and proper pride he put upon the bar;
And in it, wreathed in queasy rings, or rolled into a ball,
A score of grey and greasy things were drowned in alcohol.
Their bellies were a bilious blue, their eyes a bulbous red;
Their backs were grey, and gross were they, and hideous of head.
And when with gusto and a fork the barman speared one out,
It must have gone four inches from its tail-tip to its snout.
Cried Deacon White with deep delight: “Say isn’t that a beaut?”
“I think it is,” sniffed Major Brown, “a most disgustin’ brute.
Its very sight gives me the pip. I’ll bet my bally hat,
You’re only spoofin’ me, old chap, You’ll never swallow that.”
“The hell I won’t !” and Deacon White. “Hey! Bill, that fellow’s fine.
Fix up four ice-worm cocktails, and just put that wop in mine.”

So Barman Bill got busy, and with sacerdotal air
His art’s supreme achievement he proceeded to prepare.
His silver cups, like sickle moon, went waving to and fro,
And four celestial cocktails soon were shining in a row.
And in the starry depths of each, artistically piled,
A fat and juicy ice-worm raised its mottled mug and smiled.
Then closer pressed the peering crowd, suspended was the fun,
As Skipper Grey in courteous way said: “Stranger, please take one.”
But with a gesture of disgust the Major shook his head.
“You can’t bluff me. You’ll never drink that ghastly thing,” he said.
“You’ll see all right, “ said Deacon White, and held his cocktail high,
Till its ice-worm seemed to wiggle, and to wink a wicked eye.
Then Skipper Grey and Sheriff Black each lifted up a glass,
While through the tense and quiet crowd a tremor seemed to pass.
“Drink, Stranger, drink,” boomed Deacon White. “Proclaim you’re of the best,
A doughy Sourdough who has passed the Ice-Worm Cocktail Test.”
And at these words, with all eyes fixed on gaping Major Brown,
Like a libation to the gods, each dashed his cocktail down.

The Major gasped with horror as the trio smacked their lips.
He twiddled at his eye-glass with unsteady finger-tips.
Into his starry cocktail with a look of woe he peered,
And its ice-worm, to his thinking, most incontinently leered.
Yet on him were a hundred eyes, though no one spoke aloud,
For hushed with expectation was the waiting, watching crowd.
The Major’s fumbling hand went forth-the gang prepared to cheer;
The Major’s falt-ring hand went back, the mob prepared to jeer.
The Major gripped his gleaming glass and laid it to his lips,
And as despairfully he took some nauseated sips,
From out its coil of crapulence the ice-worm raised its head;
Its muzzle was a murky blue, its eyes a ruby red.
And then a roughneck bellowed forth: “This stiff comes here and struts,
As if he’d bought the blasted North-jest let him show his guts.”
And with a roar the mob proclaimed: “Cheechako, Major Brown,
Reveal that you’re of Sourdough stuff, and drink your cocktail down.”

The Major took another look, then quickly closed his eyes,
For even as he raised his glass he felt his gorge arise.
Aye, even though his sight was sealed, in fancy he could see
That grey and greasy thing that reared and sneered in mockery.
Yet round him ringed the callous crowd-and how they seemed to gloat!
It must be done….He swallowed hard…The brute was at his throat.
He choked…he gulped…Thank God! At last he’d got the horror down.
Then from the crowd went up a roar: “Hooray for Sourdough Brown!”
With shouts they raised him shoulder high, and gave a rousing cheer,
But though they praised him to the sky the Major did not hear.
Amid their demonstrative glee delight he seemed to lack;
Indeed it almost seemed that he-was “keeping something back.”
A clammy sweat was on his brow, and pallid as a sheet;
“I feel I must be going now,” he’d plaintively repeat.
Aye, though with drinks and smokes galore, they tempted him to stay,
With sudden bold he gained the door, and made his get-a-away.

And ere next night his story was the talk of Dawson Town,
But gone and reft of glory was the wrathful Major Brown;
For that ice-worm (so they told him) of such formidable size
Was-a stick of stained spaghetti with two red ink spots for eyes.

Klondike Mini-Series Update …

Discovery Channel looking for TV gold with Alberta-shot miniseries  Klondike

By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald      May 10, 2013

klondike calgary herald photo

The set of Discovery Channel´s Klondike in Alberta.

Photograph by: Courtesy, Dan Power ,  Handout

It’s an alarming spectacle to take in. Dozens of extras trudge slowly to a  tent in between takes on the sprawling Alberta set of the Discovery Channel’s  miniseries Klondike, all having an appropriate air of misery about them. The  cameras may not be rolling, but they still appear fairly tuned into the despair  of characters who have arrived in the Yukon just before the onset of winter.  It’s actually a beautiful day in Alberta. Sweltering even. Unfortunately, for  now, this is not particularly helpful when filming on the CL Ranch, a location  west of Calgary where a booming Dawson City has been recreated.

Mother Nature often does her part to add authenticity to Alberta-shot period  pieces, especially those epics with a man-versus-nature theme.

Today, however, it’s hot. Yet the extras who are working are supposed to look  cold. They are bundled up. They wear scarves and hats. The women wear long  dresses and coats. Many of the men sport long, unruly beards. They feverishly  rub their hands together and huddle on what is supposed to be the  less-then-welcoming docks on the Yukon River in Dawson City circa the late  1890s.

“It’s cold, remember,” Assistant Director Dave McLennan reminds the extras. “Brrrrrrrrr. Your hands and feet are cold.”

It’s not just the extras who are feeling the heat.

“We’re trying to pretend it’s winter,” says lead actor Richard Madden,  attempting to cool off on the set in between takes. “I’ve got like 19 layers  here and a dry suit. I’m so hot.”

The irony of enduring a day of uncomfortable heat is not lost on Madden. In a  fairly short period of time, he has experienced some wildly divergent weather in  Alberta. To Game of Thrones fans, Madden is the action-ready Robb Stark, a  sword-wielding leader of men who has travelled all sorts of terrain during his  battles.

But the frigid conditions the 26-year-old Scottish actor and fellow cast and  crew endured on Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country just over a month ago  was a whole different battle.

“The hardest bits I suppose were the first couple of weeks, which were  probably the hardest couple weeks of shooting I’ve ever had,” he says. “That’s  because there was the altitude and the cold. You’ve got four wind machines on  you that are the size of a back of a car, or bigger. You’ve got guys shovelling  snow at each wind machine. And it’s really cold. And you’ve got the mountain. So  that was really challenging. You’re trying to do your job and act as well as  dealing with really intense conditions.”

Madden, who plays real-life adventurer Bill Haskell in the miniseries, is not  complaining. The adverse conditions certainly helped him find his character in  the early goings. And it will no doubt help with the epic feel of the six-hour  miniseries, Discovery Channel’s first scripted TV project scheduled to air  sometime in 2014. Based on Ottawa writer Charlotte Gray’s book Gold Diggers:  Striking It Rich In The Klondike, the series mixes real-life events and  historical characters such as Haskell, Belinda Mulrooney and Jack London with a  tale of murder, greed and the dashed hopes of those who arrived in Dawson City  consumed by gold-rush fever but usually ill-prepared and doomed to fail  spectacularly.

Discovery has partnered with iconic British director Ridley Scott’s Scott  Free Productions and Calgary-based Nomadic Pictures, which also produces the  Alberta-shot AMC series Hell on Wheels.

Having had much success with reality shows such as Gold Rush, Jungle Gold and  Bering Sea Gold, Discovery was after a scripted project that explored similar  themes.

“Our audience loves the idea of the frontier spirit,” says Discovery’s  Dolores Gavin, an executive producer on Klondike. “That whole thing about man  versus nature, man versus man, man versus self — those are themes we talk about  everyday on Discovery. There was really no difference when we started talking  about this project because there were those similarities.”

Epic themes require an epic look. Standing on the sprawling Alberta set on  the CL Ranch, it’s clear that Discovery has jumped in with both feet when it  came its first scripted series. British director Simon Cellan Jones, a veteran  of top-tier television such a Boardwalk Empire, Treme and The Borgias, is at the  helm. He oversees an impressive cast that includes Sam Shepard as a haunted man  of God named Father Judge and British actor Tim Roth as a villain named The  Count. Meanwhile, the production seems to have caught its two leads just as  their stars were on the rise. Madden has won fame on Game of Thrones and was  recently cast as Prince Charming in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming Cinderella.  Versatile Australian actress Abbie Cornish, who plays the entrepreneurial  Belinda Mulrooney in Klondike, is perhaps best know for playing Fanny Brawne in  Jane Campion’s Bright Star and just wrapped up a role in next year’s big-budget  reboot of RoboCop after lead roles in films such as Limitless, Sucker Punch and  Seven Psycopaths.

And while some of the events in Klondike are fictionalized, both Madden and  Cornish did a good deal of research on their respective characters, digging up  books and biographies to help get into the headspace of those who sought riches  and adventure in the unforgiving Klondike during the gold-rush years.

This attention to detail is a hallmark of the production as a whole,  particularly amid the meticulously recreated Dawson City. The impressive set was  built up on an already existing town on the CL Ranch that has been a location  for a number of Alberta-shot projects. With mud-caked roads, newly built  businesses, piles of fresh lumber and dubious-looking meat sold off of carts,  this Dawson City is an alluring mix of filth and boom-town commerce.

Massive dogs — Newfoundlanders, Irish Wolfhounds, Great Pyrenees crosses,  among others — roam the streets with their owners, a realistic touch given that  few horses survived the trek to the Klondike during this period.

“Discovery now knows how to build a town,” says Gavin with a laugh. “With our  audience, we’ve got to ring true to the historical record. The action that is  happening in Klondike was so immense in Dawson City. You can’t do that with  eight or nine buildings, you need 30 buildings. So we have 30 buildings. If you  really go back and look at the research, Dawson City was like Vegas. It was  going 24-seven and you never knew what was going to happen.”

But while this miniseries may be aiming for feature-film production values,  it is still television. Six hours worth of action has to be shot over 54 days,  which requires long hours of perpetual motion in all sorts of conditions.

“I’ve really enjoyed the momentum of it, the impulsive nature of it,” says  Cornish. “A lot of times, because Richard and I are the leads, if we get it in  two takes then that’s it. We’re moving on.”

While Cornish did not shoot scenes on blustery Fortress Mountain, her first  week shooting near Canmore involved learning how to become an expert dog sledder  to believably play the resourceful Mulrooney.

“It was a very full-on week and very elemental and really set the tone for  that landscape,” she said. “If we had just gone straight into Dawson City we  would have no idea about what the outside of that landscape is. We just would  have known the mud and the city and the rain.”

For Madden, the epic feel of Klondike is not only due to the massive sets and  scenic vistas, but the intimate human drama of the stories being told.

“There is a huge part of the stories that can be epic visually because of  what we see,” he says. “And there’s huge parts that are epic when its just a  scene between me and Abbie Cornish and it’s just the two of us standing and  talking. That’s more epic than any mountains in the background just because of  the intensity of the scene.”

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald


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