Combustible Edison Cocktail

In honor of the light bulb

Your cocktail calendar entry for: October
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Today we’ll be mixing the Combustible Edison cocktail in honor of, you guessed it, Thomas A. Edison and light bulbs.  You’ve doubtless heard of the prolific inventor, but you may not have realized that October 22, 1878 was the day he perfected the filament light bulb.  Or we should say perfected it for the moment, as after arduous development it stayed lit for 13.5 hours.  Not quite what we’re accustomed to today, but nonetheless a milestone event.

Edison and the Light Bulb

Thomas Edison was born in 1847 in Ohio, but grew up in Michigan after his family moved.  His mother taught him reading, writing and arithmetic and he ended up attending school for only a few months.  That said, he was noted for being curious.

Edison developed hearing problems at the age of 12, most likely due to a bout of scarlet fever and untreated middle ear infections.  He ended up completely deaf in one ear and barely hearing out of the other.  Edison believe this helped him avoid distractions and concentrate more fully on his work, but modern historians and medical professionals figure he had ADHD.

He became an employee of Western Union when he was 19.  He also requested the night shift which left him time to read and run experiments.  But he got fired when he spilled battery acid on the floor which landed on his boss’ desk the floor below.

Edison soon established a research lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey with funds from selling the quadruplex telegraph he invented.  He did things like invent the phonograph but the incandescent light bulb is his signature achievement.

It was 1878 and after the phonograph Edison set his sights on the light bulb.  He figured he and his team of 40 researchers could do it in 3-4 months.  But it wasn’t until more than a year had passed that he and his team “perfected” the device.  It cost $40,000 (about $850,000 today) and burned for 13.5 hours.  Costs have come down since then.

It took around 1,200 experiments to get there, trying all kinds of materials.  It turns out a piece of coiled cotton thread baked until it was all carbon and placed inside an evacuated glass bulb did the trick.  At least for the moment.

The Combustible Edison Cocktail

We’ve had Drink of the Day commemorating certain inventions like the cash register (Million Dollar cocktail), the radio (Marconi cocktail) and Penicillin (the Doctor’s Orders cocktail).   But we’ve never yet had one evoking the name of the responsible party.

The Combustible Edison cocktail was popularized by Robert Toomey, aka ‘Brother Cleve’, who was considered the godfather of Boston’s cocktail scene.  He was multitalented, being a DJ, musician, and bartender, with real credentials in each.  Brother Cleve is largely credited with the cocktail revival in Boston due to his voluminous knowledge and he developed the menus for a variety of bars.  Sadly, he died suddenly in September 2022 at the age of 67.

It also turns out he was a member of the band Combustible Edison.  The leader of the band, a man known as Millionaire, created the drink.  He was a believer, and the Combustible Edison recipe appeared on the back cover of the band’s first CD.  After all, it’s a very good drink.

The drink is something of a pyrotechnical event, as it calls for pouring flaming brandy from up high into a glass filled with chilled Campari and fresh lemon juice.  On the advice of our legal counsel, we don’t recommend trying this at home and you’re on your own to find a bartender that will do it.  You can make it without flaming the brandy and just call it the Edison cocktail, which is entirely on point for our purposes.  And not warmed by flame.  That’s how the late Gaz Regan published it in his column in the SFGate and how we photographed it.

combustible edison cocktail

Combustible Edison

Popularized by Robert Toomey, also known as Brother Cleve and considered the godfather of the Boston cocktail scene, the Combustible Edison is also the name of a band he played in. While the original recipe calls for pouring flaming brandy into a glass of chilled lemon juice and Campari, we recommend going fully chilled and avoiding fire at home.
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  • Nick and Nora or coupe glass


  • 2 oz Brandy or Cognac
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • Garnish: Lemon twist


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with lemon twist.
  • Drink.


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