It’s a brave move to call your sake ‘HEAVENSAKE’ but that’s exactly what Régis Camus set out to create in 2013, and many would agree he has succeeded.
Instead of looking forward to a well-earned retirement, Camus looked to a new challenge in sake production. And he had to look quite a long way east, seeing as Camus had previously spent 40 years learning and mastering Champagne production, to begin the realisation of his dream.
Yes, indeed, “Camus” or even “Camus-san” doesn’t sound very Japanese. Because it isn’t. Since 1994 Camus had been top dog, working as Cellar Master at Piper-Heidsieck, one of the oldest Champagne houses, with a rich history dating back to 1785, with a reputation for quality, culture and style.
From the early years, Piper-Heidsieck received royal support from Queen Marie Antoinette and has ever since wooed and colluded with artists and fashionistas such as Carl Fabergé, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Louboutin.
Sake’s long brewing heritage in Japan, and indeed brewery history in itself with some dating back nearly 900 years, may well have been something that beckoned Camus to head east. Quickly the decision was made to jet off to Japan, intent on honouring the magnificent traditions of Japanese sake making whilst introducing some aspects of French wine production that had seen Camus win countless Sparkling Winemaker of the Year Trophies.
Like legendary sake head brewer Mr. Naohiko Noguchi (who in fact came out of retirement twice), Camus too would resist the comforts of retirement and challenge himself once again. However, the parallels with Noguchi-san would end there as Camus knew next to nothing about sake, asserting in fact that it was something purely for Asian restaurants.
In time this mindset would increasingly diminish as Camus made over a dozen visits to proven breweries within Japan to absorb the skills, nuances and culture of sake production until he reached a point where he was able to credibly start to consider what direction his own sakes would take.
And slowly the pieces of what would become HEAVENSAKE began to fall into place. Camus offered a passion for brewing, with a track record of nothing short of perfection, as well as a palate only a lucky few possess. In return, Japan would share its brewing knowledge, forged over the centuries, to be all readily osmosed by this French sake convert, and soon to be translated into something truly special in bottle.
The last ingredient needed was a platform to launch this pioneering project, to give a Franco-Japanese sake the credibility and exposure to ensure its acceptance in Western markets where historically sake had struggled to gain traction. Prudently taking on board Piper-Heidsieck’s track record across the centuries of leveraging what we would now call “influencers”, the solution became clear.
Just like Louboutin’s red soled heels or Gaultier’s avant-garde corsetry, HEAVENSAKE bottles are distinctive and unique, perhaps a nod to the prestige bottle shapes preferred by the elitist cuvées such as Dom Pérignon, Krug and Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne. Almost tear-like in appearance, they are minimalist and uncluttered, and quite literally littered across the pages of the glamourous and beautiful Instagram generation, more often than not enjoying their HEAVENSAKE in the fashion capitals of the world - Paris, London, New York - and hip Mediterranean party capital, Ibiza.
All good promotion and marketing require a point of difference and packaging is indeed a unique selling point to appeal to a sceptical consumer base. But why have just one?
HEAVENSAKE offers not only the tangible result of sake blending à la Française (Camus’ Champagne legacy rising to the fore), it also slips effortlessly into the vocabulary of the Western markets where its true potential stood the biggest chance for success.
HEAVENSAKE marketing intel led to a compelling reason to circumnavigate the age-old issue of the indiscernible label, more often than not littered with daunting Kanji. Arguably a schoolboy error by some breweries, overly traditional Japanese labels can backfire in export markets, resulting in a more intimidating than inviting product appearance, and often leading to brand rejection.
And so HEAVENSAKE took a less is more decision to have purely Romanised labels, labels which are also bereft of much of the scientific data such as seimaibuai, nihonshudo and amino sando readings.
And that’s the point of HEAVENSAKE right there. This is new sake for the new sake drinking generation that is perhaps more self-conscious than any previous generation, and one that has welcomed the savvy move by HEAVENSAKE to make all three sakes sulphite, gluten, preservative and additive free.
Plus, the trio is all natural. They are all junmai (“pure” sake) meaning there’s no addition of brewer’s alcohol and no added sugar. The sakes are marketed as low acidity versus wine (this isn’t unique to HEAVENSAKE but it’s not common to promote the fact) and the latest addition within the set (launched just 12 months ago), Junmai 12, is just 12% ABV and created to appeal to the new sake drinker who feels that excess just isn’t that cool any more. Or it’s just a brilliant sales move to drive more bottle sales to get that same buzz!
But this isn’t a case of gimmickry and style over substance. The contents of the three HEAVENSAKE bottles screams balance, purity and refinement. Pretty much what you’d expect from the nearly 800 years of combined sake production experience of the three Japanese breweries, coupled with the sophistication of perhaps Champagne’s greatest ever exponent of blending.
It is certainly a clever product, launched with well thought through brand positioning, the portal between conservative Japanese traditional heritage and the contemporary crowd of demanding consumers, thirsty for hands on top quality innovation. HEAVENSAKE has translated its domestically challenged national beverage into an accessible Western product phenomenon.
The history of HEAVENSAKE and its promise of offering #abetterhigh is just 7 years in the making, but it’s pretty clear it’s only the beginning.
HEAVENSAKE Tasting Notes:
HEAVENSAKE Junmai Daiginjo
In conjunction with Dassai Brewery (founded in 1990; Yamaguchi prefecture) | 16% ABV | Yamada Nishiki rice
A blend of Dassai’s incredible 23, 39, and two proprietary sakes.
Nose: delicate floral, grape, apple and lush tropical fruit
Palate: rich and aromatic with flavours of pears, red berries and white grapes; super smooth and silky
Food Pairing: uni, lobster, caviar, toro, air dried hams, hard cheese, creamy truffle and morel mushroom risotto (or our very own Wagyu Rice!) crème brûlée; whatever you’d normally pair with Champagne; all the good stuff!
“Daiginjo is like walking into a lovely Japanese palace with a large goblet of flowers, surrounded by elegance, refinement, and the floral aromas.” – Régis Camus
HEAVENSAKE Junmai Ginjo
In conjunction with Urakasumi Brewery (founded in 1724; Miyagi prefecture) 15% ABV | Yamada Nishiki, Toyonishiki and Kuranohana rices
A little like Champagne’s three grape blend, this is a blend of three rice varieties.
Nose: delicate floral notes and a hint of citrus, lemon peel, nectarine
Palate: crisp, light and refreshing with honeycomb, nougat and raisin; clean and velvety
Food Pairing: a dream for pairing with seafood to bring out all that ozone umami - ceviche, raw oysters, tuna tartare, sashimi but also tempura vegetables, lightly spicy food, chicken
“To me, Ginjo is like the first day of Spring with its warm rays of sunshine.” – Régis Camus
HEAVENSAKE Junmai 12
In conjunction with Konishi Brewery (founded in 1550; Hyogo prefecture) | 12% ABV | Nihonbare rice
A super drinkable junmai that pairs very well with foods.
Nose: salted caramel, almond, rice pudding
Palate: savoury, steamed rice and mineral, round but light on the palate with a bright fresh finish
Food Pairing: grilled tuna, poached fish, shrimp cocktail, margherita pizza, cheese platter, shrimp tempura, wakame salad
Junmai 12 is inspired by the rosés of Provence and the lightness of champagne – elegant and easy on the palate.” – Régis Camus
Will Jarvis is based in Hong Kong and the author behind Sake Matters, focusing on the Japanese beverage and surrounding culture. Will has previously worked for a variety of international food businesses around the world, is a trained chef and certified Sake scholar.