Three Rounds With the Owners of a DC-Area Tequila Brand

How did they hold their liquor?

Shivam Shah and Lindsey Stover taste their product at 1953 Tequila. Photograph by Evy Mages .

In 2018, Lindsey Davis Stover and Alison Kiehl Friedman ran against each other for a Northern Virginia congressional seat. Both lost—but they also won, because afterward, they pivoted to a jollier line of work: starting a tequila company. Last October, they launched 1953 Tequila with a third local cofounder, Shivam Mallick Shah. I sat down with Stover and Shah for three rounds of their tequila to talk about the business.

Round One

Before meeting Stover and Shah, I’d never heard of “sipping tequila”—I thought tequila was something to choke down in preparation to dance. But 1953 Tequila is fancy: about $220 per bottle, additive-free, “ultra-­premium.” We swirled the liquor around in our flutes, then sipped. No burn. Shah explained that the name refers to the year that women in Mexico secured the right to vote. “We wanted to honor the courage and tenacity of women to change the world,” Shah said. Pragmatically, this means that 1953 is a rare tequila that’s not only owned, but also farmed and distilled, entirely by women. Sourcing agave from a woman-owned farm was particularly difficult, Stover explained, because in Mexico, agave farms are typically passed to sons.

Round Two

Two very serious women were drinking before me. Stover was once the chief of staff to Congressman Chet Edwards of Texas and now works at a consulting firm; Shah worked in banking and consulting before turning to education policy. Both served in the Obama administration. So I needed to know if starting a tequila brand was a pivot to fun. “I’d like to think we were always fun,” Shah joked, before talking more seriously about new skills they’ve developed as entrepreneurs. As a curve ball, I asked them to describe the taste of a bad tequila. “The minute you have it, you feel like something’s happening to you that should not be happening,” Shah said, taking another swig. “That’s why you take it quickly, as a shot.” Stover explained that their ambition was to make a tequila entirely unlike that. “We didn’t want you to have flashbacks to college,” she said. “Our tequila is not a bad decision over ice.”

Round Three

So what was the worst decision they’ve made under the influence of tequila? I figured that, three rounds in, Stover and Shah might be honest. They looked at each other and laughed. “Nothing catastrophic,” Shah said. “Whatever it was, it’s repressed, it’s gone.” Then she added, “I met my husband in college, you met your husband in high school, so I feel like that category of mistake is off the table.” After urging them to drink another half round, I returned to a question they’d previously dodged: Which celebrity tequila brand would they most like to overtake? Their response was polite. “For celebrities, it’s more about volume,” Stover said. “They’re more of a mixing tequila.” Essentially, this meant that celebrity brands are not usually their competitors, since many of those tequilas are bad. Three and a half rounds in, and these ladies were so poised: coiffed and manicured, rhapsodizing about their mission-driven passion for additive-free spirits. Meanwhile, I was drunk. But they were right that 1953 Tequila is not a bad decision over ice. I woke up the next day feeling fine.

This article appears in the June 2024 issue of Washingtonian.

Sylvie McNamara
Staff Writer