Three Dots and a Dash

SOS becomes the universal distress signal

Your cocktail calendar entry for: July
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On July 1 we’re mixing the Three Dots and a Dash cocktail.  This is to commemorate the day in 1908 that the Morse code sequence “SOS” became the worldwide standard distress signal.  Sure, that Morse code sequence is three dots followed by three dashes and three more dots, but the drink is good enough that we’ll allow for code typos.

The Three Dots and a Dash is also an appropriate drink during the summer, when we sometimes lean toward the tiki dimension.  Like many tiki drinks the Three Dots and a Dash has more ingredients than the majority of drinks here.  But it’s certainly based on Morse code and has its own story we’ll get to shortly.  Worth mixing.

The SOS Distress Signal

Radio was invented just before the turn of the 20th century, as we learned when we mixed the Marconi cocktail for World Radio Day.  First known as wireless telegraphy it was quickly recognized as essential to maritime communications and safety.  Sounds good, but there was limited cooperation in standardizing distress signals.  Companies and countries couldn’t agree on a universally understood distress signal.  This was a big deal since it might come in handy for everyone with a boat.

In 1904 the Marconi company issued Circular 57 which specified for its worldwide installations the call to be made by ships in distress would be CQD.  The US Navy issued its own alternatives.  Germany got into the game in 1905 when it specified SOS as a Morse code distress signal.

Lo and behold, in 1906 the first International Radiotelegraph Convention met in Berlin and adopted a collection of Service Regulations.  Article XVI read, “Ships in distress shall use the following signal  ••• ▬ ▬ ▬ ••• repeated at brief intervals.”  That’s SOS for those of you who don’t read Morse code.

Those regulations came into effect on July 1, 1908.  The first ship to use the code was the RMS Slavonia, a passenger liner that ran aground in the Azores on June 10, 1909.  The Slavonia itself was lost, but two ships came to the rescue and all aboard were saved.

It wasn’t until the advent of voice radio communications that phrases such as “Mayday” came into effect.  But SOS has lived on, still recognized as a universal distress signal in any signaling method.   medium.  Whether carved in snow or sand, or flashed from a mirror, it still works.  In 2020 three sailors were found on an uninhabited island near Guam after spelling it out on a sandy beach.

Three Dots and a Dash Cocktail Recipe

The Three Dots and a Dash is a tiki classic first developed by Donn Beach, a founding father of tiki culture.  We have a habit of visiting him for Halloween, when we like to mix the Zombie cocktail.  But we have rejected his claims of having invented the Mai Tai.  Donn created the Three Dots and a Dash recipe during WWII at his original Don the Beachcomber location in Hollywood, California.  The drink’s name, the three dots and a dash, denote the letter V in Morse code, presumably to signify victory.

Today there’s even a bar named Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. As expected, they have the drink on their menu.  Like their recipe, the version we present is tweaked slightly from its original incarnation.  Don Beach originally included orange juice; the more modern versions tend to omit it.

The recipe we use was developed by Dushan Zarić, the cocktail mastermind behind the famous New York bars Employees Only and Macao Trading Co.  He consults with bars and develops cocktail programs worldwide and this Tree Dots and a Dash recipe was done for the re-launch of one of Southern California’s oldest tiki bars.

three dots and a dash

Three Dots and a Dash

A classic from the tiki creator Donn Beach of Don the Beachcomber, the Three Dots and a Dash is fruity and full bodied, with spice elements added by falernum, vanilla honey syrup and allspice dram.
5 from 1 vote



  • 1 oz Rhum Agricole
  • 1 oz Jamaican rum
  • ½ oz Curacao Use a dry Curacao rather than something sweet like triple sec.
  • ½ oz Falernum
  • ¼ oz Allspice dram
  • 1 oz Fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz Vanilla honey syrup Dissolve honey in an equal volume of warm water, add a drop of vanilla extract.
  • 3 dash Angostura bitters
  • Garnish: Three cherries, pineapple leaf and pineapple spear or wedge. The orchid is optional.


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
  • Add crushed or pebble ice and 3-4 ice cubes.
  • Shake until frosty cold.
  • Pour unstrained into tiki mug or tall glass.
  • Garnish with a pineapple leaf, 3 cocktail cherries and a pineapple spear or wedge.
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