Police have launched an investigation after a pub in Canada reported that a celebrated ingredient of its signature drink – a mummified human toe – has been stolen.

According to reports, the Downtown hotel in Dawson City of Yukon territory has served its signature drink, called the sourtoe cocktail, for over 40 years.

The traditional drink includes a shot of Yukon Gold whiskey with a blackened toe dipping inside. Patrons who touch the severed toe with their lips while sipping the drink get a certificate of bravery, the Guardian reported.

But, on Saturday (17 June), one of the bar's patrons, went a step further and allegedly took the toe with him after swallowing his drink. "Toe Captain" Terry Lee has claimed a Quebec resident had committed the theft.

"We are furious. Toes are very hard to come by," Lee said, adding the suspect had earlier bragged about wanting to steal the toe. He also said that the man had allegedly convinced a staff of the pub to let him drink after the designated two-hour nightly time known at the bar as "toe time".

"One of the new staff served it to him to be nice. And this is how he pays her back. What a low life," Lee added.

The fine for swallowing and stealing the mummified toe is $2,500 (£1, 979), but the hotel has said that if the toe is returned safe, they will not fine or charge the thief.

"Stunts like this adversely affect the whole community, not just the Downtown Hotel. We fortunately have a couple of back up toes, but we really need this one back," Lee said in a press release.

Hotel manager Geri Coulbourne said the theft is a terrible loss for the business as getting a toe is difficult. It was worth CA$80,000 (US$60,000 / £48,000) and was donated by a man who had it recently amputated.

The toe was put in salt to cure for six months and the staff had only started using it this weekend. "This was our new toe, and it was a really good one. We just started using it this weekend," Coulbourne told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

What is the tradition about?

The origin of serving drinks with the severed toe traces its roots back to the 1920s. It is said that a rum runner, named Louie Linken, had preserved his frostbitten, amputated big toe in a jar of alcohol in his cabin.

Some 50 years later, the mummified toe inside an alcohol jar was found by a Yukon native – Captain Dick Stevenson – who brought it to the Downtown, where it became a famous ingredient in its drinks.

Since then, the hotel had received at least ten toes. It said that big toes were preferred in drinks.

The hotel has also written a message, "Got frostbite?" on its website, encouraging people to donate their toes. It also promises that those who donate toes will be "immortalised in the Sourtoe Hall of Fame".

The theft on Saturday was not the first of its kind. Earlier, around eight other toes, including the original one of the rum runner, have gone missing over the years.

According to reports, the original one was unintentionally gulped down by a miner after seven years at the hotel.

Human toe
The toe was put in salt to cure for six months and the staff had only started using it this weekend - Representational image REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih