Because nothing says “party” like a big knife, pressurized booze, and French military tradition.
Opening Champagne with a sword may seem like an obnoxious display of hedonism best reserved for czars, princes, and regatta winners. Except: It’s a ton of fun. And if you’re drinking Champagne to celebrate, why not amp that celebration up a few gigawatts?*
One of the best parts of sabering is explaining its history to whomever you’re with. The oft-repeated origin myth for the art of sabrage invokes Napoleonic-era French soldiers given Champagne before they set off to battle, the presumption being that victory was imminent. Comically, French soldiers found a bottle of Champagne too cumbersome to uncork— especially while on horseback— so they had a better idea: Use a sword! And sabering was (supposedly) born.
The reason sliding a blade up the neck of a Champagne bottle results in a clean opening is a matter of pressure. Champagne bottles hold around 90 PSI, almost three times what car tires have in them. The standard bottle of Champagne has a 3/4-inch opening, which adds up to 35 pounds of pressure on the cork. Add two stress concentrations —the lip at the top of the bottle, and the tiny, thin seam running up the bottle’s side— and you’ve got something that’s ready to explode. When you drive a sword up the bottle’s seam into its lip, the blunt force cracks the bottle open where the seam and lip meet. If done correctly, it cleanly lops the top right off, launching it up to 30 feet and sending that sweet bubbly pouring right out. Cheers!
(DON'T) TRY THIS AT HOME
I. Ice your bottle. Put it in the freezer or drop its neck into a bucket of ice and water for 30 minutes. This will reduce the pressure (so your cork won’t fly off) and compress your glass, making it more prone to a clean break. Rest the bottle upright for a few minutes before proceeding.
2. Choose your weapon. No saber? Of course not. You can buy one, but a heavy kitchen knife will do just fine. Whatever it is, it should have a handle that allows you a firm grip. Don’t worry about the blade, or its sharpness-you’ll be using the blunt side.
3. Ensure your safety. Wear protective eyewear. In the event the bottle shatters in your hand, a kitchen towel or a sturdy cloth wrapped around the base of the bottle (where you’ll hold it) always helps. And for the love of Napoleon, make sure everyone’s standing behind you.
4. Find the seam. There’s a barely visible line running up the bottle to the lip. That’s the path your saber will take.
5. Prep the bottle. Unwrap the foil at the top, and take the wire cage off the cork. Be delicate. That thing wants to explode. Hold the blade in your dominant hand and the bottle in the other, at an angle of about 30 degrees.
6. Off with its head! In one smooth, firm, quick motion, run the blunt side of your blade up the seam, smacking it into the lip. The vibration and impact will knock the top clear off the bottle. Make sure people have their flutes ready, because bubbly is about to come foaming out. Before you serve, inspect the neck for loose shards of glass. Now bask in the glory of your victorious sabering-the next toast is to you.
* We know you won’t really try this at home; we’re obviously just explaining how a professional would do it.
(Image credit: Flickr user Jim Budd)
The article above by Foster Kamer appeared in the December 2015 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.