Review: Can LiveWire Turn Bartenders Into Rock Stars?

A new canned cocktail line models itself like a cool indie label

October 19, 2021 9:32 am
Various canned cocktails from LIveWire, a new boozy RTD line that's attempting to add a rock'n'roll vibe to mixed drinks
Canned cocktails get a little bit rock'n'roll with LiveWire, a new line of RTDs

What we’re drinking: Various canned/bottled drinks from LiveWire Cocktail Co.

Where it’s from: LiveWire is the brainchild of L.A. bartender Aaron Polsky, who envisioned a brand of ready-made drinks with a rock’n’roll aesthetic created by star bartenders — who also get to share in their drink’s success.

Why we’re drinking this: Can a cocktail company act like a record label? And is that a good thing, considering what we sometimes think about record labels?

Polsky, who got an early start in New York with mixology legend Sasha Petroske at the now-shuttered White Star in New York, thinks he’s got a new business model that’ll work well for drinks pros. “Say I talk about cocktails for an article. A reader couldn’t try them if they didn’t live near me, and I couldn’t monetize my drinks,” he says. “So my idea with LiveWire is bartenders scaling what we do creatively and monetizing it while reaching more people.” 

LiveWire founder Aaron Polsky
LiveWire founder Aaron Polsky

The record label comparison is deliberate. Bartenders at LiveWire are basically like musicians. They’re part of a roster and they make a royalty of every unit of their drink that’s sold. “These aren’t major label terms we’re throwing down on them,” insists Polsky, who was a music business major and also worked in music publishing. “Unlike the music business, the contracts here are easy to understand, royalties are pretty high and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

That’s a slight dig at the record biz. And it’s also a bit of a pointed finger at some bigger drinks companies. Says Polsky: “What I like is that something like Diageo isn’t doing this — I don’t see them paying out a long-term units sold kind of arrangement with bartenders. I’m hoping this sets a good precedent.”

As for the bartenders themselves, Polsky definitely plays up the rock-star angle when he goes into a collaboration. “I choose to work with people I respect,” he says. “They have to be self-promoters and have a cool aesthetic that’s captivating. I don’t mean their faces — like a style and a persona. This isn’t a company of vanilla bartenders. And they have to be good people, too.”

Yael Vengroff, the Head of Bars and Mixology Programming at Katsuya and SBar, and her Crystal Shiso Mojito for LiveWire
Yael Vengroff and her Crystal Shiso Mojito for LiveWire

That ideal might be best represented by Yael Vengroff, the Head of Bars and Mixology Programming at Katsuya and SBar, and also one of LiveWire’s creators. Her drink, Crystal Shiso Mojito, is the company’s newest launch. “I wanted to create something that tasted like diamond skeletons and nine-inch glittering emerald heels,” she tells us. “I wanted a can to repair heartbreak on a balcony late at night over a cigarette, a can that you can pair with an Omakase sushi set, and a can that fuels you on the playa at Burning Man. I wanted a can to hand to Grimes and say, “Let’s drink this and shoot a crystalline music video with our pet wolves.’” 

Which might be the best intro to a canned beverage ever? Let’s try ‘em out. 

How they taste: First up, LiveWire makes a pretty big deal out of the fact that they don’t use fresh juice. “Saying ‘fresh juice’ is misleading to the consumer,” says Polsky. “If you want fresh juice, support your local bar! We use natural extracts and flavors and things that allow us to be shelf stable.” 

So, with that in mind, we dug into several different tipples from the brand.

Most interesting? Rocket Queen from Erin Hayes, who is also the Partner/Director of Sales & Trade Advocacy at Westward Whiskey Distillery. Interestingly, she offers up a rum- and absinthe-based drink that has notes of cinnamon and pandan. A variation on the Jet Pilot cocktail, it’s tropical, but also gives off almost a tea-like vibe. (“I love the challenge of changing someone’s perceptions that tropical drinks are syrupy sweet and full of juice,” Hayes tells us.) The can’s retro sci-fi artwork — a bit Ed Wood meets Rob Zombie — was also a highlight.

SHANNON MUSTIPHER and her Holy Tyger cocktail for LiveWire
Shannon Mustipher and her Holy Tyger cocktail for LiveWire

We liked all the cans and bottles — and at about $5 per cocktail, they’re a steal — but also of note were drinks from Shannon Mustipher (author of TIKI: Modern Tropical Cocktails and co-founder of Women Who Tiki), who somehow turns bourbon into the base of a wonderful tropical drink with Holy Tyger; and the aforementioned Crystal Shiso Mojito, which puts a tart yet delicate Japanese spin on a classic mojito.

Where to buy it: While available in several stores and even in some bars (including high-end places like Broken Shaker, Death & Co, Katana Kitten and PDT), your best bet might be just buying it directly online, which you can do here for $20 (four-packs of cans) and $25 (bottles).


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.