This column originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, 2012
I was in Boston a few weeks back, attending the first annual Boston Cocktail Summit. It was a grand affair that culminated, from my point of view, in me being roasted, Friar’s-Club-style, by some of my best friends in the business. They were far too kind to me. Thank you, friends.
I was privileged to meet Brother Cleve whilst I was in town. He’s a local legend in the Cradle of Liberty, and lest he hasn’t been on your radar, you might like to know that this man wears many hats. Brother Cleve is a DJ, a bartender, a bar consultant, and a musician. He’s also one very fascinating dude.
In Boston, Brother Cleve is the recognized godfather of their cocktail scene, and his music career, as a member of the band, Combustible Edison, ties in nicely with reputation as a cocktailian, since they played lounge music. The kind of tunes that are suitable to accompany a few rounds of sophisticated spirits and the like.
The original band was a 17-member affair known as The Combustible Edison Oriental Foxtrot & Heliotropical Mambo Orchestra, and it was put together to perform the music for a revue called The Tiki Wonder Hour. Brother Cleve described the revue as, “a truly surrealistic Las Vegas styled cabaret show, hosted by Satan.” Sounds good to me. Eventually the band was whittled down to just five members, and the name was shortened. They toured the country for quite a few year in the nineties.
The leader of Combustible Edison, a man known as The Millionaire, also created Combustible Edison, the cocktail, and his recipe for the drink appeared on the back cover of the band’s first CD, I, Swinger, as well as being featured in Paul Harrington’s groundbreaking 1998 book, Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century.
Combustible Edison is a pyrotechnical extravaganza of a drink, involving flaming brandy which is poured from a height into a glass filled with a mixture of chilled Campari and fresh lemon juice, and if you find a bartender who is willing to make this drink for you, I highly recommend that you give it a try.
Brother Cleve reminisced to me about a night in the 1990s at the Café Montmarte in Madison, Wisconsin where, as Combustible Edison was playing, the bartender made a dozen of their eponymous cocktails by pouring the flaming brandy from an oversized brandy snifter, into pre-prepared glasses as he walked the length of the bar, leaving “trails of fire along the bar.” Please don’t try this at home.
If you do want to put together something similar in your kitchen, though, I highly recommend that you try the Edison cocktail. It’s made with exactly the same ingredients, but this version doesn’t call for igniting the brandy, so it’s far more suitable for home consumption. And this way, you’re sure you won’t get roasted.
2 ounces brandy
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce lemon juice
1 lemon twist., as garnish
Shake over ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe. Add the garnish.