Image courtesy of For Bitter For Worse on Facebook
The holiday season is notorious for many things — glittering decor, rich foods, thoughtful gifts, abundant family time and seasonal cocktails top the list for many. Amidst this year’s festivities comes a popular growing trend: non-alcoholic beverages.
When you initially think of non-alcoholic beverages, your mind probably wanders to the classic Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers. The fact is, the non-alcoholic beverage industry has evolved from those initial offerings with nearly every popular brand offering a “NA” version of their beverage. Then there are the craft companies making a name for themselves in the NA industry with unique flavors and standout branding.
Enter: For Bitter For Worse.
There are a few factors that make their non-alcoholic beverage different from others on the market. The most apparent is their unique and fun flavor combinations which are all derived from real plants and herbs.
“I’m just a big flavor chaser, I love playing with flavors” For Bitter For Worse CEO and co-founder Shelley Elkovich said. “So I think about complexity of flavor and I think about occasion. That’s why our drinks are so different from each other as well. In our range, the four of them, each one is suited for a different occasion.”
Currently For Bitter For Worse offers four flavors. Elkovich describes each of them with the event they’re meant to be associated with. Eva’s Spritz is the perfect addition to aperitivo hour, Rose City Fizz is meant for daytime and/or picnicking, Saskatoon is similar to red wine for pairing with elegant, savory meals, and Smoky No.56 is your late-night, fireside companion.
What’s different about For Bitter For Worse is they aren’t trying to be a direct replacement for specific types of alcohol. While Elkovich acknowledges that there’s a place for products like that, they can leave some consumers who use non-alcoholic beverages for moderation feeling disappointed and discouraged with NA options.
This mentality combined with their flavorful product earned them several accolades at this year’s Bartender Spirits Awards — including double gold for Eva’s Spritz and gold for Rose City Fizz in the ready to drink (RTD) category, silver for Smoky No.56 in the non-alcoholic spirits category, and RTD of the Year and RTD Producer of the Year for Eva’s Spritz. These awards were especially meaningful to For Bitter For Worse as they were able to compete very well against other well-funded non-alcoholic brands like Ghia and alcoholic brands like Bulleit and Straight Away — all of whom they consider friends.
When making their product, For Bitter For Worse does utilize a proprietary process very similar to how alcohol is made. Developed by For Bitter For Worse COO and co-founder, and Shelley’s husband, Jeff Elkovich, they refer to this process as “reverse bootlegging”.
“It’s almost like Frankensteining equipment,” Elkovich said about her husband’s process, “using equipment from beer making to spirits to small winery. [In the] process that we call reverse bootlegging, we macerate organic botanicals in organic alcohol and water, and then remove and recover the alcohol using a still. Bootleggers make alcohol using a still, we do the opposite and that is how we can yield such robust flavor and complexity without using lab-derived ingredients and without boosting them with natural flavors and things like that.”
This process is just one of the ways the husband and wife team are individually represented in their shared company. Each utilizes their background and knowledge from previous careers to help advance their joint passion project.
“He is very analytical, very meticulous. His previous career was in environmental remediation and risk assessment and modeling and safety,” Elkovich explained. “Nothing gets by the man. He is very attuned to making sure that all processes are created in a robust way and then followed through. We’ve, knock on wood, never had a bad batch — he manages all that stuff really well and he’s great with spreadsheets and finances. I am the writer, creative and marketing person. I’m more of the big-picture vision person and I’m really good at building community [and] attract great people.”
Their different areas of expertise are what make them such a great team. Plus, being married to one another for 32 years helps with efficient teamwork. In fact, their marriage and its longevity is what inspired the name of their company ‘For Bitter For Worse’. Elkovich also credits the company for uniting her and her husband in a new and exciting career endeavor.
In their next step with For Bitter For Worse, they’ve recently joined the Koffman Incubator’s Business Incubator Program as they begin to strategically plan a presence in New York. Mike Lightman helped Elkovich through her time in the Tory Burch Fellowship and made an introduction to the Koffman’s Director of Business Incubation Programming and program mentor Eric Krohn. The rest was history.
“Our goal is to relocate to New York State [because] we are super excited about the resources. We have our daughter who works for the brand as our New York operative, and we would like to be closer to her. I’ve been interested in the Grow-NY program. So I saw the Koffman as a great way to assist us.”
That feeling was mutual for Krohn after he spoke with Elkovich.
“For Bitter For Worse is by far one of our most savory startups. Incubators around the world teach people to witness need/desire and answer it with innovation, Shelley has done that in a fabulous way,” Krohn said. “As opposed to designing non-alcoholic versions of cocktails For Bitter For Worse has found national success in creating standalone original beverages that rival the best bartenders in any city. Helping bring For Bitter For Worse to the Southern Tier will be a great boost to not just people looking for great beverages, sans the booze, but to area providers of fruit juice products, packaging and labor. The Koffman couldn’t be more excited to bring our savory new member to celebrity stardom.”
Other areas of interest for For Bitter For Worse coming to New York State include working with area farmers to locally source ingredients they currently have to import and seeking the opportunity to enter an early-stage beverage incubator. Elkovich’s interests in the latter surround expanding access to resources including co-packing for startup founders in the beverage industry.
In fact helping other entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs, is an important focus area for Elkovich as she continues her tenure as a co-founder and CEO.
“I’m really proud that we are a woman-owned brand,” Elkovich commented. “We are in the final stages of getting our women-owned certification through WBENC. I’m interested in — as my brand grows and my influence grows — promoting an inclusive and feminist business leadership style.”
But, overall it all boils down to having a positive impact on culture and the way society views non-alcoholic beverages for Elkovich and For Bitter For Worse, something to keep in mind as we celebrate the holiday season with loved ones who may have a different relationship with alcohol.
“Our vision is to create a healthier and more inclusive culture,” Elkovich said. “Because my background has been more in nonprofits, food security and marketing for social and environmental justice and women’s rights groups, purpose is paramount for me. I would not work this hard if I didn’t believe we were contributing to the larger culture. We want to improve people’s lives and we want to change the culture around drinking, what it means to have an elevated adult drink, and the way that people feel included in both celebrations and workplace events.”
Writers note: After this interview and article were completed, For Bitter For Worse was notified they were chosen as a Food & Beverage Magazine top pick of 2023. Congratulations to the For Bitter For Worse team!