Published on December 17th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
HEAVENSAKE’s Nes Rueda On Making Luxury-Oriented Sake That Goes With All Meals & Vibes
Sake and sushi is a classic, traditional culinary pairing. But if you think that sushi is all good sake pairs with, you are surely missing out on a world of flavor combinations that cross culinary boundaries while also surprising and delighting the tastebuds of you and your guests.
When renowned champagne winemaker Régis Camus set out to collaborate with three revered sake breweries to create HEAVENSAKE, he was already breaking centuries-old traditions. And by bringing a champagne-maker’s sensibility to the process, he created a selection of dry-style sakes that prove how “Japan’s drink” has much more pairing acumen than just the obvious.
HEAVENSAKE’s three expressions on the market — Junmai 12, Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo — all offer fresh, fruity, floral flavor profiles that shine against umami and amino acid-rich foods and can even hold up to spicy flavors. To founder Régis Camus, Neopolitan-style pizza is the most versatile food to bring those pairing notes to life, hence HEAVENSAKE keeping all sorts of palettes pleased.
To learn more about HEAVENSAKE, I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Nes Rueda. Originally from Miami, Rueda has over 12 years of experience launching brands from inception, developing creative brand strategy, positioning, innovation and developing and executing consumer programs. He previously worked as brand manager for Ciroc Vodka in New York, and has spearheaded high-profile events including New Year’s Eve, Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend, MTV’s VMAs and New York Fashion Week. After working for Disarono as National Trade Marketing Director, Rueda joined Soto Sake as Marketing Director, successfully launching the brand in the States. He is a certified sake professional and holds a B.A. in Management & Marketing from Florida Atlantic University.
What came first: the name of Heavensake, or the concept of the beverage?
Nes Rueda: The concept. Our founder was looking for better drinking laternatives. While wine is timeless, the growing health consciousness around the world prompted our exploration into sake. The simplicity and purity of the ingredients in sake allows consumers to indulge without many of the negative consequences of most alcohols. HEAVENSAKE is sulfite and gluten free. It has acidity lower than white wine and no added sugars. It’s so pure that almost any allergy can still be satisfied. All of this combined with its refreshing and versatile taste led HEAVENSAKE. Hence our tagline #ABetterHigh.
How would you describe HEAVENSAKE to someone who hasn’t yet tried it?
Nes Rueda: Surprising. Most people have only had “hot sake,” nigoris — “cloudy sake” — or sake bombs. So when people experience HEAVENSAKE in a stemmed wine glass, they are blown away by the flavor profile, refinement and versatility of it. For me, introducing someone to HEAVENSAKE that has preconceived notions about the category and watching their face when they take that first sip is very special.
To you, what separates HEAVENSAKE from other sakes?
Nes Rueda: HEAVENSAKE is special in many ways. We wanted to make a sake that was world-class withour compromising quality or tradition, only collaborating with the best breweries in Japan. By the way, everything is 100% made in Japan — bottle, cap, cap wrapper, liquid) — then shipped in refrigerated casks, so you literally drink what leaves the brewery. The other major difference is Regis Camus, 8-time winner of the IWC Winemaker of the Year award, he works in tandem with the Toji’s (brewmaster) and uses champagne technique to blend our sakes. This gives HEAVENSAKE an unprecedented roundness, texture and refinement.
The HEAVENSAKE bottle is beautiful. Who helped come up with the look and overall design?
Nes Rueda: This is also a Franco-Japanese collaboration. We used an agency in Paris who works on Iconic Chamapgne brands (Dom P, Ruinart) for the bottle design. The rakkan (logo) and font were designed by a well-known art Director, Yotsugi Yasunori. The proprietary shape of the HEAVENSAKE bottle was designed to evoke the purity of water, the timelessness of wine and the character of champagne. The seal (rakkan) — the HEAVENSAKE rakkan — is a reference to our Franco-Japanese heritage. The hexagonal shape representing France, commonly referred to as “L’hexagone” due to the singular shape of the country. The irregular lines, inspired by Japanese calligraphy (kanji), create 3 hexagons for water, rice and koji.
What are some of foods that HEAVENSAKE pairs best with?
Nes Rueda: Everything, it really depends what you are in the mood for. For our Junmai 12, I think of rice dishes, mushrooms, black truffle, lean beefs, anything tempura or fried. Our Junmai Ginjo goes exceptionally well with raw fish, so this is your sake for nigiri and sashimi. It also pairs beautifully with tomato dishes like pizza and pasta! And obviously, vegetables and cooked fish dishes that pack a lot of flavor. The Junmai Daiginjo goes well with Parmigiano Reggiano, Pata Negra, duck, wagyu beef, lobster, caviar, white truggle, uni, you get the idea.
What is coming up for HEAVENSAKE in 2020?
Nes Rueda: We want people to start exploring sake outside of the traditional sushi/sake mindset. We will be collaborating with many people to explore food pairings and some other fun actications that we cannot yet discuss. On the business side, we are focusing on growing the brand in key markets which include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vegas, Miami and Chicago.
Is there an accomplishment for HEAVENSAKE you are most proud of?
Nes Rueda: There are so many! From selling the brand’s first bottle to being named “Best Sake” at the 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition, to walking into a restaurant like Sushi Nakazawa or CATCH and seeing HEAVENSAKE on people’s tables. Certainly proud of our team and what the brand has accomplished in a short time.
When not busy with Heavensake, where does your free time usually go?
Nes Rueda: I work out a lot, I play a lot of soccer, I spend a ton of time with my fiancée and our dogs Oliver and Chaos. I love to travel and eat, I am always out looking for new things and getting inspiration from them.
What was the last concert you attended for fun?
Nes Rueda: I went to BadBuddy on Friday inight in Brooklyn and absolutely loved it. He killed it!
Finally, Nes, any last words for the kids?
Nes Rueda: Try new things, explore new places, stay hungry and keep learning. Always drink responsibly.