Are bartenders the new chefs? Put another way: if chefs have been able to step out in front of cameras, and become the faces of consumer goods like packaged soups and sauces, doesn’t it make sense that the same would be true of bartenders and packaged cocktails?
That’s the gamble LiveWire, a buzzy ready-to-drink cocktail brand is making. Fronted by Los Angeles-based bartender turned entrepreneur Aaron Polsky, the canned cocktail brand is poised to ride the momentum built up by the intersection of craft cocktail culture, growing customer appreciation for marquee bartending names, and the popularity of hard seltzers. LiveWire also emerged at a moment when the conversation around fair pay for hospitality workers has new urgency.
“It’s unlike any other liquor company,” Aaron Polsky says. “LiveWire is about paying the bartenders. There is a need and an opportunity for a more sustainable revenue stream for bartenders than the four walls of their bar.”
Bartenders design the LiveWire flavors and are given full credit on the cans, in move that’s similar to going to a fancy bar, scrolling down the menu and choosing a signature drink based on ingredients, style of drink or bartender reputation.
Flavors include the Rocket Queen by Erin Hayes, a luscious mix of rum, pomelo, cinnamon, pandan and absinthe and the Honeydew Collins by Joey Bernardo, a swirl of gin, honeydew, coconut, lime leaf and elderflower. The newest flavor to the roster comes via New York bartender Shannon Mustipher. The bottled cocktail, Holy Tyger, is a beach-y whiskey sour riff with bourbon, coconut, lime and Jamaican bitters.
“Bartenders gets tipped every time you get a can,” Polsky explains. “That is in perpetuity. Our business model is built around that.” Polsky is positioning the brand around its roster of top bartending talents so that over time, consumers become fans of bartenders, and then later, fans of the brand.
“It becomes a mark of quality.”
LiveWire DrinksLiveWire Drinks
Launched on the auspicious date of March 3, 2020, LiveWire has had to overcome its share of first-year hurdles, including a pandemic lockdown and a flurry of unexpected materials shortages such as CO2, cardboard and aluminum.
Consumer awareness and fondness for the hard seltzer category means that bartender-designed ready-to-drinks will be more easily embraced by a demographic keen on canned things. Sales for the hard seltzer category hit over $4 billion in 2020, which is only to the benefit of ready-to-drink cocktails.
“A year ago, I was saying that hard seltzer made it so that people were trying things in cans,” Polsky says. “Now people are actively asking for cans.”
“The way we look at it, we’re producing something that has not existed, so we’re going to create a whole new segment and demand.”