E-commerce has been the way we shop for what feels like forever. Whether we’re shopping for mineral water or mattresses, no item is too small — or too big — to be procured online. In fact, it’s become such a part of our modern routine that we don’t even give it a second thought. Yet when it comes to the way we buy booze, e-commerce was not something many people had to think about, at all… Until now.

Ever since Prohibition, state alcohol laws have operated under a three-tier system of regulation. The producers sell to the distributors who, in turn, pass it on to retailers, restaurants, and bars. By propelling expansion in direct-to-consumer (DTC) liquor sales from coast to coast, the extenuating circumstances of 2020 helped position online sales as a viable “fourth tier.” SipTequila.com is among a handful of digital retailers at the forefront of this massive movement.

The startup exists as a sleek platform showcasing a broad portfolio of quality, craft-minded agave spirits. It’s incredibly convenient, yes, but it’s about so much more than merely saving time. In modifying traditional channels of distribution, it is spearheading innovation by broadening the available inventory you have to choose from, encouraging fair pricing, and improving the customer experience overall.

The "Fourth-Tier System" (above), where there is greater market access to small brands, and brand access for consumers wanting more choices.
The “Fourth-Tier System” (above), where there is greater market access to small brands, and brand access for consumers wanting more choices.

“We provide market access to small brands, and brand access for consumers wanting more choices,” explains Hannah Lewis, co-founder of SipTequila. “Similar to the craft beer trend, smaller producers that are doing something special, unique, authentic, and differentiated in this category are a key part of a consumer’s tequila journey as they explore the range of profiles that exist across brands and expressions.”

The benefits to the drinker are immediately obvious. Even a cursory glance of the SipTequila.com site reveals a slew of exciting brands and bottlings that you’re unlikely to spot at a local liquor store. That’s because larger distributors (the second tier) tend to favor massive brands with outsized marketing and sales budgets. SipTequila is addressing a glaring gap in the agave industry — sourcing boutique products and getting them in front of the people who are eager to discover more about the tequila category.

“DTC and e-commerce work the same way in beverage alcohol as they do in other consumer categories; it simply puts the consumer in the driver’s seat with regards to choice,” adds Lewis. “Many markets in the US are underserved when it comes to the breadth and range of available brands and expressions, particularly in a newer category like tequila.”

The site also serves as a hub for education. Through detailed tasting notes, social media feeds, newsletters, and a dedicated blog, SipTequila.com is demystifying agave spirit and making it more accessible — and marketable — to the masses. It alleviates a paralysis of choice that can crop up when you’re faced with an increasingly crowded shelf of spirits. “What should I buy?” And, “Will I like it?”

Ever since Prohibition, state alcohol laws have operated under a three-tier system of regulation (above). Producers sell to the distributors who, in turn, pass it on to retailers, restaurants and bars.
Ever since Prohibition, state alcohol laws have operated under a three-tier system of regulation (above). Producers sell to the distributors who, in turn, pass it on to retailers, restaurants and bars.

SipTequila finds meaningful differentiation here by emphasizing curation. It’s an intimate process that Carolyn Kissick lives and breathes. The head of customer education and experience for SipTequila moved to Guadalajara last year to be closer to the heart and soul of tequila production in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

“When we are making a choice on a brand for the ‘Sip’ portfolio, I’m looking for a quality process, and a story,” she says. “There are so many brands of tequila coming out without a story. And without something in the methods that makes you stand out, your brand is lost at sea.”

On the SipTequila platform these once-listless brands find navigational aid. They’re fed crucial real-time data and feedback on what consumers are seeking — a key competitive advantage that DTC holds over traditional three-tier distribution. It helps answer the question, “How do I reach my audience precisely where they are?” Armed with this asset, the smallest of operations can minimize their upfront market research spends, and focus on what they do best: make quality tequila.

When it comes to liquor sales, direct-to-consumer channels are just getting warmed up as more state legislatures are examining restrictions on the practice. The complications of Covid have only served to accelerate the movement. It is now undeniable that DTC is the wave of the future. Though it may still seem like novelty now, buying a new bottle from a site such as SipTequila.com may soon be as ordinary as snagging a pair of prescription lenses off of Warby Parker.

The journey of brand information & data: e-commerce & direct to consumer retail.
The journey of brand information & data: e-commerce & direct to consumer retail.

In the meantime, Lewis and Kissick are celebrating the journey — not just with fellow lovers and discoverers of tequila, but with other women entrepreneurs shaking up their respective industries. “Last fall I hosted a tasting for 150 very strong female CMOs,” Kissick recalls. “The excitement and growth we collectively experienced teaching and learning about a spirit and each other was so wonderful. These are some of the most influential women in the world of business and they came together over tequila — how cool is that?”

Curious to experience SipTequila.com for yourself? Visit the site and use code VINEPAIR99 to save $25 on your first order of $99 or more!

This article is sponsored by SipTequila.