Photos by Beth Morgan
When Lesley Frascogna of Tulip Floral noticed craft cocktail bars popping up at weddings she styled, her creative wheels started turning. A fan of collaboration, the small business owner and floral artist hatched an idea one day while styling floral arrangements at County Seat at the Town of Livingston. Looking over her friend and bar manager Brian Isonhood’s cocktail list, the two decided to plan a craft cocktail class taught by Brian held at Lesley’s studio. Lesley promoted the class through social media on her Instagram account and quickly filled the available spots. A long-time fan of Lesley’s work—and an appreciator of a good cocktail—I quickly signed up.
Arriving at the studio, I found my spot at a work-space set up with bar tools and ingredients. Joining me at my table were attendees Jake Franklin (co-owner of Deep South Pops), photographer Beth Morgan and Thimblepress owner Kristin Ley. The lively bunch made the class a collaborative experience and a lot of fun as we chatted about Jackson and their small businesses and creative endeavors while learning how to up our cocktail game; by the end of the night, Beth even had made plans to shoot Jake and Kristin for an upcoming project.
The studio at Tulip made a comfortably chic venue for the evening. Lesley’s style incorporates vintage pieces and a lot of white, with the space arranged to allow for a comfortable lounge-like seating area, buffet with a spread of snacks like cherry tomato and mozzarella skewers. She outfitted work tables not only with placecards and tools of the trade, but also colorful low flower arrangements that provided pops of color and showcased her talent.
Over the course of a couple of hours—kept on track by Lesley’s gentle prodding--Brian taught us the technique to craft three cocktails of his creation that featured local products (Cathead vodka, Bristow gin and Charboneau rum) as well as seasonal ingredients. He says the main idea behind his cocktail creations is having fun; he also, however, likes that the craft cocktail craze allows bartenders to become “chefs behind the bar,” incorporating seasonal ingredients and produce in addition to spirits to keep things “simple, but with an edge.”
Brian’s approach to the craft of cocktail incorporates his pedigree as a bartender. Originally from Mississippi (he was raised in Yazoo County), he moved to Portland, Oregon, at 19 years old. When he turned 21, while still in school, he began working at a local bar and learned from bartender Mike Robertson (of Portland’s Driftwood Room), whom he considers his mentor in the trade. From there, Brian journeyed to the opposite side of the country - Vermont, but kept bartending. When he returned home to Mississippi, he began incorporating the influences of the techniques he’d learned and regional trends from other parts of the country into drinks incorporating Mississippi ingredients and seasonality.
For the Tulip class, at the height of summer, his thoughts turned to iced tea, berries and fresh plums. We started with a sweet tea-inspired sipper served in a Mason jar, perfect for front porch sitting. From there, we moved on to my favorite of the evening, the Piney’s Plum, incorporating fresh fruit and gin, which came out a vibrant ruby color served in a coupe glass. To finish off the evening, an icy sorbet-based fizz reminiscent of a buzzy gelato rounded things out.
After he demonstrated how to make each drink, explaining techniques and why and how long to shake various concoctions based on the ingredients, each table worked together to try our collective hands at making—and sampling—the cocktails for ourselves. We left class with recipe cards and a take-away bundle of bar tools to help us put our newfound knowledge into practice at home…though I’d be just as happy to let Brian mix me a drink on his home turf at County Seat.