Shelley and Jeff Elkovich, the zesty duo behind For Bitter For Worse, have pioneered a sophisticated collection of “spirited, spirit-free varietals” befit for any table, shaker or occasion, springing on the scene just at the dawn of 2020’s new normal. Born out an unexpected health news and a refusal to sacrifice flavor, FBFW brings the necessity of love and inclusion into all things facets of their business. We caught up with Shelley for the low-down on all things not so bitter, and why drinks are in fact their proclaimed “love language’.
We ADORE this name! How did you land on ‘For Bitter For Worse’ and how did its creation come to be?
I’m so glad you appreciate our quirky humor! The business name is inspired by our long, sparky marriageand love for celebration. Our drinks are crafted in direct response to the too-sweet mocktail; thus our name is both an invitation and a warning. We make complex drinks for people with sophisticated palates.
The choice to either drink less or embark into a ‘sober curious’ moment is so personal for each person. Was there one thing that prompted a toe in the booze-less waters, before starting FBFW, or were the two intrinsically connected?
Great question! The catalyst for the business was the double-whammy of job loss and health challenge. The summer of 2018, we were celebrating our youngest child’s college graduation and moving her into a NYC apartment, when Jeff learned the environmental consulting company where he’d spent most of his career was abruptly quitting business.
After a brief period of shock, we understood the opportunity to re-vision our life. We rented out our house and spent six months in deep-dive retreat, housesitting in the tranquil San Juan Islands of Washington state. We’re lifelong flavor chasers and have always created drinks, from cluster-select wine to vermouth and liqueurs, so we knew we wanted to try a drinks business (but we weren’t sure what).
We found our answer after a magical day watching a pod of orcas on the Salish Sea. Although the water had been calm and I felt fine on the boat, that evening it was clear that something was wrong. It was as if I was falling-down-drunk. Eventually I was diagnosed with an obscure neurological condition with a fantastic French name: mal de debarquement. I was unable to tolerate alcohol, and nothing on the market suited my palate. In that challenge, we found our purpose, and For Bitter For Worse was born. We bought a copper still, and Jeff experimented with our reverse bootlegging process, we foraged ingredients from the island and the sea, playing with evergreen sprigs, native berries, even seaweed!
I then spent many months testing recipes and then trialing them, serving hundreds of drinks in popup tastings. We launched in Portland just six weeks before the first lockdown, and consumer demand has been gratifying. We’re so grateful to have found our right livelihood, and to receive such an enthusiastic response.
Zero Proof Libations have come so far in just the last year alone - How have you seen the NA community embrace a more sophisticated palette in your signature varietals, and what did you see that was missing in the market of non-alcoholic beverages?
It’s a dynamic time! At first, I noticed a dearth of complex, low carb beverages. Also, some interesting early products required real mixology skills to get a decent drink. We determined to make drinks that are flexible—ready to right out of the bottle, but which also invite play with a cocktail shaker too (also see our Gunmetal Hawthorne Strainer.)
The nonalcoholic shelf has many more options now, which is wonderful. I think the issue arising at the moment concerns what I might call integrity of process. Our drinks are pretty singular not just in their complex flavor, but also because they contain organic ingredients that come from real plants. We don’t take lab-made shortcuts, such as preservatives, or “natural” flavors.
FBFW is vocal around subjects of inclusion, compassion and self-forgiveness. Can you share how this came to be a theme in not only your brand but in your daily life as well?
Thanks for appreciating that we’re values-led. The ethos behind our biz is rooted in our activist past. Love is the motivating force behind our life and work. When we say “Drinks are our love language,” we mean that love drives our business decisions—love for each other, our community and workers, and love for the land. We’re harnessing that love to change the beverage industry, and to shape a healthier and more inclusive culture. I so enjoy making drinks, but if those drinks weren’t tied to a larger mission, it wouldn’t be enough for me!
How has 2020 changed us as drinkers, and where do you see the world of non-alcoholic cocktails looking forward?
If we’ve learned anything recently, it’s that it’s time to focus on what matters. We’re all cutting back on booze, not just for physical wellness, but because deep down we know that alcohol doesn’t promote connection. It doesn’t make for better conversation. It doesn’t strengthen relationships. It’s time to take back our gatherings and put the focus on the occasion and each other. Non-alcoholic beverages are here to stay, because people are waking up to their need for authentic connection, and the imperative to take better care of their physical and emotional health.
Favorite FBFW varietal right now, and how to best enjoy?The Saskatoon. I’m going to cheat and give you two “bests”: I’m so busy these days,
that I usually just drink it as I would a pinot noir—with dinner, in a red wine glass, sometimes lightly chilled. But when I want a treat, I make Love Wins: a next-level serve that is basically a luscious non-alc negroni sour. It’s SO good.