Can Canned Cocktails Make Bartenders as Famous as Chefs?
Capitalizing off of the meteoric rise of craft cocktails and the growing popularity of hard seltzer, new brand LiveWire aims to raise the profile of top bartenders.
Thanks to the rebirth of the cocktail, the Martini, the Manhattan and the Old-Fashioned are once again the stars of the bar. But the popularity of mixed drinks has also raised the profiles of the people working behind the bar and some bartenders have their sights on being as famous as celebrity chefs.
This is certainly the mission of new canned cocktail company LiveWire Drinks, which was founded by top Los Angeles bartender Aaron Polsky. The brand’s line will feature his own creations and those from some other accomplished mixologists. Polsky, who made his name managing the popular Hollywood establishment Harvard & Stone, also plans to launch a talent agency that will represent established and up-and-coming bartenders.
“We’re the first that’s bringing multiple bartenders under one roof,” says Polsky. “There are other bartenders who have launched their own canned cocktails, and what they’re offering is generic with the stamp of expertise by a bartender. My whole thing is this is their art. We’re bringing that to the public.”
LiveWire, which Polsky says he plans to operate in the vein of a record label, will feature the bartenders front and center. The cans will function essentially as a record cover with the bartender’s likeness and cocktail prominently displayed on the label.
“I want it to capture the raw, unbridled, dangerous energy of rock and roll,” he says.
Polsky is currently selling his Heartbreaker canned cocktail (vodka, oroblanco grapefruit, kumquat, jasmine, ginger) and his Golden God (rye whiskey, brandy, apricot, elderflower, green tea) will follow in a few weeks. Both cans feature art by L.A.-based tattoo artist Henry Lewis.
Each month he plans to introduce a new addition to the line. Next up is fellow Harvard & Stone bartender Joey Bernardo, who will be followed up by Sother Teague of Amor y Amargo, Christine Wiseman of Broken Shaker, Moe Aljaff of Two Schmucks, Yael Vengroff of the Spare Room, Chris Amirault of Otium and Erin Hayes of Westward Whiskey. He’s now working with around 15 bartenders, most of whom are clustered around L.A.
The LiveWire cocktails will clock in at 7.5 percent ABV and retail for $5.50 per can with a royalty paid to each bartender.
“What LiveWire is doing is allowing bartenders to profit off of their intellectual capital rather than on a time-based model,” says Polsky. “So instead of literally putting in the hours for which you’re paid, you can scale in your work like an artist does and make money that way.”
Polsky hopes that the current craze for hard seltzer, canned wine and other ready-to-drink offerings will pave the way for his canned cocktails. According to a UBS analysis, hard seltzer alone is projected to be a $2.5 billion business by 2021.
But unlike the malt-liquor base of White Claw and its ilk—and some other so-called canned concoctions—LiveWire will be made with real spirits from Ventura Spirits Company and acids, natural flavors and extracts from Givaudan. One of the challenges Polsky has run into with LiveWire is finding ways around using ingredients like fresh juice that spoil quickly.
“Fortunately, over the past three years I’ve worked a lot with larger scale draft cocktails,” he says. “So, most of these things I had the luxury of ironing out.”
The line is available in limited quantities in California and will soon launch in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Eventually, Polsky hopes to see his cans in gas stations, grocery stores and liquor shops, as well as in hotels, bars and restaurants.
But the question remains: Will marketing cocktails based on the star power of bartenders work? The roster of talent Polsky already has on board is a great starting place, but time will only tell if they’ll resonate with the public.
“Building bartender celebrity is like a chicken or egg thing,” Polsky insists. “They’re not famous until they’re out there, so it’s like getting them in stores, getting people talking about it and getting people buying and drinking it. Then, it sort of snowballs from there.”
Polsky eventually will roll out 750 mL bottles of stirred cocktails—like Old-Fashioneds, Martinis and Manhattans—that are pre-diluted and resealable and will fall in the 30 to 40 percent ABV range. (He’ll be following in the footsteps of award-winning bartender Charles Joly, who co-founded Crafthouse Cocktails in 2013, which sells bottles of ready-to-drink classic cocktails and twists on well-known recipes made with real spirits.)
But LiveWire, Polsky hopes, will encompass far more than just pre-packaged cocktails. He’s also laying the groundwork for a talent agency that will offer job placement and legal services.
“You know, you have countless stories of bartenders entering jobs where they’re promised a lot of things verbally and none of them materialize,” he says. “And either because they can’t afford it or because they feel like they’re being too aggressive, bartenders don’t hire legal professionals.”
Though Polsky had been toying with the idea of ready-to-drink cocktails since 2012, it wasn’t until this past October that the idea for LiveWire Drinks and Talent really started to take shape. Those who put out a cocktail with LiveWire will have the option of utilizing the other services as Polsky’s company grows. And any bartender solely looking for career or legal advice can also do so.
“Currently, the focus is on production of the cans and getting them out there because the cans are going to be the route to building [the agency],” says Polsky. “I’m in the process of hiring the next people. So, I also have an attorney who is a contractor and our designers and photographers are all contractors, but I will be bringing all of those skill sets in house as soon as I’m able.”