I don’t usually like to declare anything “the best”. But then, I’m not consistent either, so if there were a heated argument in a tiki bar over what was the all-around best cocktail…I would end up championing the classic “Three Dots and a Dash”. Dit-dit-dit-dah (Morse Code for “Victory”, and a catch phrase during World War II) was handed down in the Tiki Holy Text from Donn the Beachcomber via Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, his disciple. It even has a famous bar in Chicago named after it, and that’s as high a praise as can be. As with any cocktail, it has been tweaked and tinkered with over the years—but it is so undeniably excellent that even the variations don’t venture far beyond the original.
When I found myself in the land of all-things-tiki at Hale Pele in Portland, I leafed happily through the compendium of wide-ranging drinks. One of the limitless variations on the Daiquiri/rum sour? A black rum and rhum shrub Sidecar? The exotic fruit route with pineapple and coconut and mango and passion fruit? The docksider style, with multiple and overproof and fogcutting zombie-inducing layers of alcohol? The brutally simple and delicious Cock ‘n’ Bull with its gingery explosion of flavor? The smooth yet devastating classic Mai Tai?
Nope. Three Dots and Dash. It was the one.
The first key to a proper 3D&D is the brilliant combination of two entirely different types of rum. First there’s the fresh, grassy rhum agricole from Martinique, fermented and distilled from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice. Then there is the directly juxtaposed Demerara rum made from treacly molasses in the British mannerto add a dark, brooding base level.
The original recipe suggests Rhum Clement Vieux Agricole, and quite frankly, I cannot think of anything better. For the Demerara, the recipe calls for El Dorado 12 Year Old, and I can’t think of anything better there either..
Mix in small amounts of fresh lime juice, orange juice and honey syrup, a dash of Angostura bitters and you’re almost there—except for two key but somewhat obscure additions that define the drink: Falernum and Pimento Dram.
Falernum, commonly available in the mixing section of any good liquor store, is a flavorful explosion of almond, ginger, clove and lime in a syrup. There are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. The original recipe cites Fee Brothers’ Falernum, but in the Pacific Northwest the best go-to is BG Reynolds’ Falernum—locally concocted, made in small batches and available at local retail or over the internet.
Pimento Dram is the generic Jamaican name for a liqueur made from allspice. (In Jamaica, pimento means spice.) The original recipe cites DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters, but I vastly prefer the Jamaican St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram from Haus Alpenz, now available across the country; it is intensely spicy, so much so that it is rarely consumed alone and primarily used for cocktails, and then sparingly.
Here’s the original:
Three Dots and a Dash
Don the Beachcomber via Jeff Berry
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
- ½ oz fresh orange juice
- ½ oz honey mix (1:1)
- 1½ oz amber Martinique rum (Rhum Clement Vieux Agricole)
- ½ oz Demerara rum (El Dorado 12)
- dash Angostura bitters
- ¼ oz Falernum (Fee Brothers)
- ¼ oz pimento liqueur (DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters)
- 6 oz crushed ice
- pineapple and cherries for garnish
The final, crucial element in Three Dots and a Dash is, well, three dots and a dash. Grab a toothpick or straw and impale three cherries and a small wedge of pineapple and place it atop the glass horizontally. Three dots of cherries and a dash of pineapple!
If you’re in Portland, go over to Hale Pele on Broadway in Sullivan’s Gulch and ask for one of these utterly satisfying and delicious cocktails. Chances are there’ll be a tiki bar somewhere nearby in an urban environment, so if you’re not in Portland you can probably find one. And you should, because tiki bars are fun, and after all, Three Dots and a Dash may just be the best tiki drink there is.