A Conversation with Marcel Rates

A Conversation with Marcel Rates

Several years ago, just after I arrived in Brazil, I decided I wanted to write about cachaça. Of course, I knew nothing about cachaça. So, I did some internet research and decided to start buying cachaças online, ordering from one of the large purveyors.

Not knowing anything and not having a guide put me at a decided disadvantage. Eventually I gave up. I didn’t stop consuming cachaça, but I stopped writing about it.

It took a few years, but I decided to come back. But this time, I knew that I couldn’t enter the world of cachaça alone. I needed a guide, someone who could at least point me in the right direction. Fortunately, I met someone who could do just that.

Marcel Rates is a public servant, cachaça entrepreneur, family man, and an increasingly important player in cachaça culture as the owner of the first store to exclusively sell cachaça in the Distrito Federal, where I happen to live. During this pandemic, I spoke with him a bit about how he got into the game, what he’s drinking right now, and what the future holds for cachaça.


What was your introduction to the world of cachaça?
I come from a family from Minas Gerais, and cachaça has always been a part my family.
When I was a child, I remember my grandfather, my father and uncles getting together to drink cachaça. They would send me to a nearby stream to bury bottles of cachaça along its banks to cool them.

So I’ve been a part of this culture almost since I was born. It’s always been a part of my family.
Then, when I was almost 18, I actually started drinking cachaça. At first I mixed it with soda, and like most people, I drank low quality cachaça. It was only later when I started to appreciate higher quality cachaça.

About this same time I started to collect. I traveled often with a friends and would buy bottles to remind me of my experiences. The following is a virtual conversation I had with Marcel. His responses have been edited for clarity.

When did you decide to open a cachaça store and how long did it take for this dream to come true?

I decided to open the store in 2016, mid-October, although we didn’t open until January 2018. I had been a public servant for 18 years, but I always had a great desire to get into the cachaça business. And as a beginner to the industry, I needed to do something that identified me.

The desire to open a store specializing in cachaças was to promote and enhance the culture.

Were there people who tried to encourage or discourage you from opening a cachaça store?

My wife, Ana Paula, encouraged me a lot from the beginning. But we didn't tell anyone that we would open the store, family and friends only found out in December 2017.

To get to know more about what it would take to create a cachaça store, we hired a consultancy to help us study the viability of the business.

We have always tried to surround ourselves with professionals rather than with people who could make discouraging or unproductive hunches. As supportive or unsupportive as individuals can be, we didn’t want other people to lead us down the wrong path.

Why is there still so much hostility to cachaça in Brazil?

I believe it is cultural. Cachaça has always been marginalized.

But I also believe that the sector does not know how to promote itself. The majority of the sector is formed by small producers, many of whom are in the business as a hobby. They may be passionate, but they may not get the importance of certain parts of promotion. There’s a lot that has to be done to improve marketing and education.

What is the biggest challenge working in the cachaça industry?

Paying the bills. Just kidding.

The challenge is to change the perception of cachaça culture here in Brazil. It’s difficult to show that it is now a quality product after so many years when it was disparaged by people from all over. Having to constantly educate the consumer requires new ways of marketing and thinking. The product doesn’t just sell itself.

What do you think will happen to the cachaça market in the coming years?

Only the good products will survive. Whoever is doing business in the most professional way, with good production, distribution and marketing, will remain.

Whoever sees cachaça as a hobby or adventure, unfortunately will not be able to support themselves and will have to leave the market.

But I believe cachaça will grow a lot in coming years, as the production chain improves, and the industry is staffed with competent people, who promote and enhance products and culture.

What cachaça have you been drinking most during the quarantine?

It depends a lot on what I'm eating, if I'm talking to someone on social media, if I'm watching some content. I’m always trying new things. I’ve got a collection of around 400 different bottles, so I prefer to experiment.

Besides a caipirinha, what is your favorite cocktail, which uses cachaça? Do you have a recipe that you can share?

I drink Rabo de Galo (Rooster Tail) at home, because it's easy to do.

25 ml of Rosso Vermouth and 75 ml of quality Cachaça. That’s it.

But my favorite drink with cachaça, is the Macunaíma.

45 ml of white cachaça
25 ml of sugar syrup
20 ml of lemon juice
7 ml of Fernet Branca

Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake well.

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