LiveWire Is a Rock-Inspired Cocktail Brand + ‘Record Label’ for Bartenders
Bartending is a form of artistry just as music is, but unfortunately, most bartenders aren't represented or given the same recognition other types of artists are. That's where LiveWire comes in.
LiveWire is a rock 'n' roll-inspired cocktail company that has formatted its business layout like a record label so that their bartenders can brand themselves the way other artists do. With canned signature cocktails such as the Rocket Queen and Holy Tyger, it's an extremely unique entrepreneurial move, so we hopped on a call with founder Aaron Polsky to find out more about his business and how LiveWire takes the best of both the bartending and the music industries.
Polsky has been a fan of rock music for most of his life, and even started playing music as a result. With the dream of becoming a rock star himself, he set out for a music business degree in college so that he would more knowledgable about the behind-the-scenes side of being a musician. However, while pursuing the degree, he got involved in the hospitality industry and decided that was his calling — but he still wanted to keep it rock 'n' roll.
LiveWire launched in mid-2020 and currently has seven ready-to-drink cocktails by six different bartenders, including Polsky, and is available for purchase both online and in select stores and bars in California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New York and New Jersey. The aforementioned Rocket Queen cocktail, which was crafted by Erin Hayes, actually won the title of "Best Rum-Based Ready-to-Drink" in the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Read our full chat with Polsky below.
Let's start with your history as a rock 'n' roll fan. How did you get into this genre and which bands have been your favorite?
My brother is seven years older than me and my sister is 10 years older than me. I remember when I was like 5, my sister and I were watching MTV. She was 15, and we were watching the "Live and Let Die" Guns N' Roses video. And I was like, "Who are those people?" And she's like, "They're rock stars." I was like, "I wanna be a rock star!" That's where it started. And I remember on the bus, the bus driver would sing or play kids music, and I'd be like, "Can you play 'Live and Let Die' by Guns N' Roses?"
After that, my brother made me a mixtape when I was in fourth grade, and it was all the classic rock stuff — [Led] Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Cream... So that sort of got me on the path. And then I think he got me the Zeppelin box set when I was in middle school, and I was super into it.
Then I started playing guitar. I had grown up playing classical piano, and then I started playing guitar in the eighth grade. My buddy taught me how to play "Basket Case," and he was like, "Dude, you're a natural." And I was like, "Sweet, I want to play guitar now!"
It sort of just became my identity. I grew my hair out when I was 14 and I would get Levi 684s on eBay and wear bell bottoms to school and stuff. I managed to con my teachers into letting me have a class where I just played guitar by myself in the room. I was like, "Let me get credits for this!"
Then I went to college at NYU for music business with the thinking that I'd love to be a professional musician, but I also don't want to get screwed on the record contract. I was like, if I do the music business thing then I can do both. But I didn't do that, in college I got into the culinary scene pretty hard, and so I sort of veered away from that path for a long time.
How did that transition happen?
I was in college and I wanted to get a side job to make some extra scratch. I was always into food, I loved growing up and watching shows on Food Network. I wanted to make some money, so I started applying to restaurants. I applied to Applebee's and I applied to Per Se... I applied to basically the best restaurant in New York City and I applied to Applebee's.
Applebee's was like, "You have no experience. It's December, we can't hire you." Per Se was like, "Well we're opening a cafe downstairs, how about that?" So I went to this cafe that was so attention-to-detail-oriented, it was crazy. I never knew food could be so... I didn't know where ingredients came from, I didn't know about farms and all those things.
So I got really drawn into it, and this was my freshman year in college, so it was kind of game over for the music business. I ended up getting the degree, but I got super into food and started going underage to some of those top cocktail bars that were opening too, and I was like, This is insane. I did a semester abroad for culinary school in Paris during college, and then ended up just working my way up in the industry. By the time I graduated, I was pretty confident in my path in bartending.
I ended up working in some great bars, and around 2012, I was about three years out of school and I started getting some press for cocktails that I'd made. I was like, This is awesome. Wait — nobody that reads about my cocktails can actually drink them. If I'm working in New York and somebody in California or Texas or Florida reads about cocktails in a national publication, they can't drink them. So I wanted to set out to find a way to change that, because I wasn't the only bartender who was having this problem.
I worked on it for a while, the idea at the time was a bottled cocktail. Then I moved out to Los Angeles in 2015 and was managing this awesome rock 'n' roll bar out here called Harvard & Stone. We had like three live bands a night, but we also had a world-renowned cocktail program and it was also a neighborhood bar, so you didn't have to drink high-end — you could drink a $3 Olympia.
I left Harvard in 2019 and then I was like, You know what? I gotta get this thing off the ground. So I raised a little bit of money, enough to basically incorporate the company and make our first 400 cases. We made those on March 3 of 2020, so, 12 days before the pandemic.
Can you explain how you chose to model the business like a record label?
Yeah, so going back to how I wasn't the only bartender who was feeling this problem... I was like, This is a thing, and if we can create a platform where we can take bartenders' signature cocktails, bottle or can them and then sell them across the country, and cut the bartenders in on the revenue — that can make meaningful change in the industry.
By expanding the reach of bartenders beyond their bars, we basically can build fans in a way that we never could before. Build a fanbase for these bartenders where people are like, "Cool, I love Joey Bernardo's drinks, I can't wait until he comes out with a new one. I can't wait to go see him in person at this bar" — that's what I'm trying to build.
How did you go about recruiting the couple of bartenders that you do have?
We have six who have drinks out, and then we have about seven to 10 more on deck with drinks that are already developed that we haven't released yet. It's people who make amazing drinks. Being in the industry, it's smaller than it seems, so you know a lot of people and I've had the opportunity to go to a good handful of bars around the world and try peoples' drinks.
So it's that, it's also people that I know are good people, and finally it's people who want to self-promote because that's really what it is. You made a thing, you really need to put it out there. And then people who kind of fit our vibe, which is that rock 'n' roll/alternative vibe. We're not really after the vanilla bartender.
Where can people get the drinks in person?
We have like 400 accounts. So we're in stores on the ground in California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New York and New Jersey. We're in a bunch of independent retailers, we're also in a few chains — Total Wine, BevMo!, Whole Foods in Louisiana and then we also just launched in Disney World a month ago, so people can buy them there. So that's super exciting, and then people can also order them online.
There are also bars. So what's really special about our cocktail is that some of the world's top cocktail bars choose to carry it, and that's amazing because they have their own amazing drinks. For them to carry it is an endorsement of our quality. It's like they're like, "We know we make great drinks, but your drinks are as good as what we sell. And when it's super busy on a Saturday night, nothing makes our staff happier than seeing a ticket with four canned cocktails on it."
Social media pretty much plays a huge part in every industry nowadays, so what are some of the unique ways you've seen bartenders brand themselves on social media?
I think they lean into what they do. My friends, Erin and Kelsey — Erin Hayes, who has a drink with us — they're sort of goth rock 'n' roll chicks, and they created this pop-up called Black Lagoon, which is this Halloween pop-up that's incredible. They did it in Toronto last year, and they're expanding to a handful of cities this year. They leaned into that thing, they leaned into who they were and they were able to show off their personality on social.
My friend Shannon, who has a cocktail with us, she's really the tiki-tropical person, and she fully leans into being that vibe and being an educator in that regard. I think it just allows you to amplify your image and who you want to be. My friend Ian Griffiths was always about equity and also sustainability, and so that's always been his thing, and he was able to build a platform off of it where he could speak to it. Social media, I guess, essentially allows you to build a platform where you can express yourself in the way you want.
These bartenders are in educational positions because they're like at the top of their industry and the top of their craft, and other bartenders and industry people look to them. So it gives a platform to really do the training and education.
If you had one musical artist you were able to collaborate with on a cocktail, who would it be?
I'd rather have the musician do our art, because the bartenders make the cocktail, so it would be cool. I know a lot of musicians who are artists and do cool graphics. I'd be super stoked to work with Slash, and actually, we do have some collabs in the works that I haven't been able to announce. But we do have another amazing, amazing musician working with us on the label.
So the way that those work is that the bartender gets put with the musician, and they basically are like, "Cool, this is the vibe of the cocktail, I want to capture it in this label." And that's really truly how the collab works.
Visit LiveWire's website to find out where you can purchase their renowned canned cocktails.