Bartending is an art form just like music, but unfortunately most bartenders are not represented or given the same recognition as other types of artists. It’s there that LiveWire Between.
LiveWire is a rock ‘n’ roll-inspired cocktail company that formatted its business like a record label so its bartenders could get their name out there like other artists. With canned signature cocktails like the rocket queen and St. Tygerit’s an extremely unique entrepreneurial move, so we hopped on a call with founder Aaron Polsky to learn more about his company and how LiveWire is getting the most out of the bartending and music industries.
Polsky was a fan of rock music for most of his life and even started playing music as a result. With dreams of becoming a rock star himself, he set out to pursue a music business degree in college to learn more about the behind-the-scenes of the music business. However, while still studying, he got involved in the hospitality industry and decided it was his calling – but he still wanted to keep it rock ‘n’ roll.
LiveWire launched in mid-2020 and currently features seven ready-to-drink cocktails by six different bartenders, including Polsky, and is available for purchase online and in select stores and bars in California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New York and New York. Jersey. The aforementioned Rocket Queen cocktail, which was designed by Erin Hayes, actually won the title of “Best Rum Ready-to-Drink” in 2022. San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Read our full conversation with Polsky below.
Let’s start with your story as a rock ‘n’ roll fan. How did you get into this genre and which bands were your favorites?
My brother is seven years older than me and my sister is 10 years older than me. I remember when I was 5, my sister and I watched MTV. She was 15 and we were watching the Guns N’ Roses “Live and Let Die” video. And I was like, “Who are these people?” And she says, “They’re rock stars.” I was like “I want to be a rock star!” This is where it all began. And I remember on the bus, the bus driver was singing or playing children’s music, and I was 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 classic rock — [Led] Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Cream… So that kind of put me on the right track. And then I think he gave me the Zeppelin box set when I was in middle school, and I was great in it.
Then I started playing the guitar. I had grown up playing classical piano, then started playing guitar in eighth grade. My buddy taught me how to play “Basket Case” and he was like, “Man, you’re a natural.” And I was like, “Sweet, I want to play guitar now!”
It kind of became my identity. I let my hair grow out when I was 14 and bought Levi 684s on eBay and wore stockings to school and everything. I managed to convince my teachers to let me take a class where I played the guitar alone in the room. I was like, “Let me get credits for this!”
Then I went to college at NYU for the music business thinking I’d like to be a professional musician, but I don’t want to be screwed with the record deal either. I was like, if I’m doing the music business then I can do both. But I didn’t do that, in college I got into the culinary scene pretty hard, and so I kind of strayed from that path for a long time.
How did this transition happen?
I was in college and wanted to get a little job doing some extra scratching. I’ve always loved food, loved growing up and watching shows on the Food Network. I wanted to make money, so I started applying to restaurants. I applied to Applebee’s and I applied to In itself… I applied to the best restaurant in New York and I applied to Applebee’s.
Applebee said to me, “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 which was so detail oriented it was crazy. I didn’t know food could be so… I didn’t know where the ingredients came from, I didn’t know about farms and all that stuff.
So I was really drawn to that, and it was my freshman year in college, so it was kind of over for the music industry. I ended up getting the degree, but I got super into food and I started to go underage at some of these top cocktail bars that were opening too, and I was like, It’s insane. I did a semester abroad for culinary school in Paris while in college and then eventually worked my way up the industry ladder. By the time I graduated, I was pretty confident in my bartending journey.
I ended up working in some really great bars, and around 2012 I had been out of school for about three years and started getting press for the cocktails I made. I was like, It’s awesome. Wait – no one who reads about my cocktails can actually drink them. If I work in New York and someone in California or Texas or Florida reads about cocktails in a national publication, they can’t drink it. So I wanted to find a way to change that, since I wasn’t the only bartender with this problem.
I worked on it for a while, the idea at the time was a bottled cocktail. Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and I was running this awesome rock ‘n’ roll bar here called Harvard and Peter. We had about three live bands a night but we also had a world famous 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 said to myself, You know what? I have to get this thing off the ground. So I raised some money, enough to incorporate the company and do our first 400 cases. We did them on March 3, 2020, so 12 days before the pandemic.
Can you explain how you chose to model the business as a record label?
Yeah, so back to the fact that I wasn’t the only bartender feeling this problem…I was like, It’s one thing, and if we can create a platform where we can take bartenders’ signature cocktails, bottle or can them, then sell them nationwide, and reduce bartenders’ incomes – this can bring about significant change in the industry.
By expanding the reach of bartenders beyond their bars, we can essentially build fans in ways we never could before. Build a fan base for these bartenders where people are like, “Cool, I love Joey Bernardo’s drinks, can’t wait for him to release a new one. Can’t wait to go see him in person in this bar” — that’s what I’m trying to build.
How did you go about recruiting the couple of bartenders you have?
We have six that have drinks outside, and then we have about seven to ten more on deck with already developed drinks that we haven’t released yet. These are the people who make amazing drinks. Being in the industry it’s smaller than it looks 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 people’s drinks.
So that’s it, it’s also people I know who are good people, and finally it’s people who want to promote themselves because that’s really what it is. You’ve done something, you really need to put it out there. And then people who fit our vibe, which is this rock ‘n’ roll/alternative vibe. We’re not really looking for the vanilla bartender.
Where can people get the drinks in person?
We have around 400 accounts. So we have a presence in field stores 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 at Disney World a month ago, so people can buy them there -down. So it’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 best cocktail bars in the world choose to offer it, and it’s amazing because they have their own amazing drinks. For them, wearing it is an endorsement of our quality. It’s like they’re like, “We know we make great drinks, but your drinks are only as good as what we sell. And when it gets busy on a Saturday night, nothing makes our staff happier than seeing a ticket with four canned cocktails on it.”
Social media plays a huge role in pretty much every industry these days, so what are some of the unique ways you’ve seen bartenders gain exposure on social media?
I think they are leaning into what they are doing. My friends, Erin and Kelsey—Erin Hayes, who’s having a drink with us—are sort of goth rock ‘n’ roll chicks, and they made this pop-up called black lagoon, which is this Halloween pop-up that is amazing. They did it in Toronto last year, and they’re expanding to a few cities this year. They leaned into this thing, they leaned into who they were, and they got to show their personalities on social media.
My friend Shannon, who is having cocktails with us, is really the tiki-tropical person, and she completely leans into being that vibe and being an educator in that regard. I think it just lets you amplify your image and who you want to be. My friend Ian Griffiths has always talked about equity and sustainability, and so it’s always been his thing, and he was able to build a platform from where he could talk about it. Social media, I guess, basically allows you to create a platform where you can express yourself however you want.
These bartenders are in educational positions because they are at the top of their industry and at the top of their craft, and other bartenders and people in the industry look up to them. So that gives a platform to really do training and education.
If you had one musical artist you could collaborate on a cocktail party with, who would it be?
I’d rather have the musician do our art, because bartenders do the cocktail, so that would be cool. I know a lot of musicians who are artists and do cool graphics. I would be super happy to work with Slash, and in fact, we have collaborations going on that I couldn’t announce. But we have another amazing musician working with us on the label.
So the way it works is the bartender is put with the musician, and they’re basically like, “Cool, that’s the cocktail vibe, I want to capture that on this label.” And that’s really really how collaboration works.
Visit LiveWire website to find out where you can buy their famous canned cocktails.