An LA Bartender Pops the Top on a Whole New Genre of Canned Craft Cocktails
For those about to rock.
CategoryFarm + Table
Written byRich Thomas
Rock stars and bars are a pairing with a long, storied history, so when well-known LA bartender Aaron Polsky decided to create a line of canned craft cocktails, it’s no surprise he curated the product like a record label exec. LiveWire drinks are billed as “cocktails by the world’s best bartenders,” but they’re more than signature calling cards in a can; they’re meant to give shine to local heroes of the hospitality world and put some extra dough in their tip jars, too.
The origins of Polsky’s LiveWire formulations began at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in 2016, when he was bar manager for LA hotspot Harvard & Stone and concocting recipes that could batch easily without compromising the integrity of the drink. What began on the Indio Polo Grounds as a Tequila Grapefruit Mule morphed into LiveWire’s Heartbreaker, a bubbly vodka creation infused with grapefruit, kumquat, jasmine and ginger. Golden God, a 7.5% ABV rye and brandy concoction with a hint of apricot and a kick of green tea, is Polsky’s second drink in the collection. The third belongs to Joey Bernardo, also from the Harvard & Stone family. His Honeydew Collins is a crisp, tropical affair that pairs gin with coconut and lime leaf.
Polsky hopes to drop new drinks on a monthly basis, so stay tuned to the official LiveWire site for details. We popped the top on a Golden God and caught up with the rock ‘n’ roll bartender to explore the creative direction behind the LiveWire brand and understand how he’s trying to bring more than just awareness to his favorite bartenders.
Why are we seeing such an explosion in canned cocktails right now?
Aaron Polsky: Two words: White Claw. White Claw blew the doors open for everyone. They showed people that they could trust something in a can that wasn’t beer. Even before White Claw, canned wine was iffy for some people; they didn’t quite trust it. I do my fair share of cold calling, especially for New York wine stores, and I’ve gotten people who say, “Yeah we’re just not into the whole canned thing” and I’m like, “Really? You don’t like a fully recyclable, light-to-ship product that chills faster? Okay.”
There’s an authentic, rock ‘n’ roll approach to everything about LiveWire drinks. The cans are like album cover art, the 4-packs remind me of boxed sets, and the way in which the bartenders are featured feels like the whole line is curated like a record label.
AP: You’re 1,000% on the money.
What made you want to go that route?
AP: I live and breathe rock ‘n’ roll, it runs through every aspect of my life. I started in restaurants when I was 18, then started bartending when I was 21. I was a music business major at NYU, and had been reading about the music business long before that, but I fell in love with the restaurant industry in the middle of college and ended up making enough good relationships and connections during college that I decided that it made sense for me to stay in it.
LiveWire is something I’ve been working on for eight years. For a long time, it was going to be Aaron Polsky Drinks, and I had this moment when I realized it would be so much better to treat it like a record label and feature drinks by people who I thought were the best in the business. I wanted to change how the industry worked. This constant problem is that you can become “industry famous” for being a bartender, but then your only way to level up financially is to leave bartending. You become a brand ambassador or a hotel food and beverage director and you move up the ranks. Either of those options takes you out of bartending. The irony of that is crazy, so I wanted to find a way to build a platform to scale these people’s abilities so that they could achieve a sense of financial security and multiply their income by doing what they’re best at.
Does that mean there’s a revenue sharing model to the product?
AP: Yes. [The bartenders] make money that’s commensurate to how well the drink sells. The whole point is to enable them to make more money as something scales.
How do you choose the featured bartenders?
AP: First and foremost, the cocktail has to be great. In addition to that I consider how we’re going to approach marketing the person and the drink. If it’s a person with a lot of press and renown already, we essentially pave that last mile. This is the record, whereas the only time you could “see” them before was when they were live in your town or you went to theirs. Very much similar to a musician, it’s not just about the music, it’s also about the general appeal of that person.
Do the bartenders have input on the artwork?
AP: Yes. We allow the bartenders to choose the artist they want to work with and we give them full creative control. We just review to ensure that there’s nothing on there that would violate a federal alcohol adverting policy; then we take that art and make it into a label. We encourage them to choose their artist because ultimately we want something they’re proud of and can stand behind.
I’m a little bummed…I was honestly expecting some musical pairings on the packaging; like recommended listening for each cocktail.
AP: [Laughs] I actually built some playlists! I’ll give you a few songs for each one. For Heartbreaker, let’s say “Nightrain” from Guns N’ Roses, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” by the Rolling Stones, and “Looks That Kill” by Mötley Crüe. For Golden God, “Supernaut” by Black Sabbath, “She Rides” by Danzig, and “Hate The Taste” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Joey [Bernardo] put together a Honeydew Collins list, so we’ve got “Primitive” by the Cramps, “Ready 2 Wear” by Felix Da Housecat, and “Public Pervert” by Interpol, the Carlos D remix.
His wife, Virginia, grew up in the national park and was a devoted environmentalist.