How to Saber a Champagne Bottle Without Hurting Yourself and Others
Illustrationen von Michael Marsicano

How to Saber a Champagne Bottle Without Hurting Yourself and Others

Once you understand the basic physics of champagne sabering, it’s actually not that hard, or risky.
December 26, 2016, 9:00pm

"Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it." - Napoleon Bonaparte

"People always saber Champagne with weird objects: a lighter, a butter knife… maybe their dick." - Matty Matheson

We are now deep in the holidays, which means that it's time for you to brush up on the OG party trick: opening a Champagne bottle with a blunt object—essentially, any blunt object.

This tradition dates back to Napoleonic times when French soldiers opted to pop victory bottles with the revolutionary weapon of choice: the saber.

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Sure, the odds of mutilating your hand or taking out your buddy's eye are drastically higher when you use a technique developed by cavalrymen, but he who doesn't risk never gets to drink Champagne, if the Russian proverb is to be believed.

Once you understand the basic physics of Champagne sabering, it's actually not that hard, nor risky. And speaking of physics, did you know that the average Champagne bottle has 90 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure—three times more than in a car tire? Or that the cork travels at 50 miles per hour once it's released from its glass cage of emotion? Probably not.

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Illustrations by Michael Marsicano.

But that's OK. That's why we spoke to the pros and got their pro tips on how to properly saber a champagne bottle.

We talked to Bar Isabel general manager Alessandro Pietropaolo—who owns his very own saber called Effervescence, which he uses only for sparkling wine—about how to pull this off with minimal risk and effort. We also got some tips from Dead Set on Life host Matty Matheson on how to saber Champagne with an iPhone.

Step 1 - Pick the Right Bottle

"The way that a bottle of sparkling is constructed varies," Pietropaolo explains. "The champenoise method is secondary fermentation that happens inside the bottle—it has the most pressure. If you are going to saber, use a bottle that is made in a champenoise method. Generally speaking, that includes Cava and all Champagnes and most French sparklings. I've had less success with Prosecco bottles because there's less pressure in the bottle due to the Charmat-Martinotti method."

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Also, your bottle should be at the right temperature, Pietropaolo says. "The colder the neck of the bottle, the easier it will be to saber. You don't want to do it with a warm bottle." He recommends either putting the bottle in the freezer for a few minutes or putting the neck of the bottle in ice.

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"It's not essential, but a colder bottle is much safer to saber than a warm one. I don't know why that is but I've seen failures happen because of that." In case you're wondering, failure means a really irregular break of the bottle or even just losing the neck altogether, both of which are easily avoidable.

Step 2 - Pick the Right Tool

"I've done it with a butter knife. You can do it with a glass of wine. You can do it with almost anything."

Almost anything… Earlier this year, at the inaugural party we had for the MUNCHIES test kitchen, Matty Matheson learned this the hard way. Yes, you can indeed saber a bottle with pretty much any blunt object but the bottle can also fight back.

"When [MUNCHIES editor-in-chief] Helen Hollyman asked if I would saber a bottle at the MUNCHIES test kitchen opening party, I offered to do so with my iPhone," Matty recounts. "After a few failed attempts and a cracked phone screen, I had to fully commit and pop that fucker! They still owe me a new phone!"

Generally though, the heavier, the better, according to Pietropaolo. "When I saber, I use my three-foot fucking sword. It's much easier if you use something heavier. You can even use the base of a wine glass, but you have to be really precise."

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Step 3 - Strip the Bottle

"There's a broad lip at the top of the bottle and a cage. When you're doing sabrage, take off any paper or foil that might impede the progress of whatever tool you're using to open the wine. Then, remove the metal cage at the top of the cork. Once you remove the cage, if you haven't been taking care of that bottle, it can pop off. It's basically a loaded gun."

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Step 4 - Locate the Seam

"On any bottle of sparkling wine, there's a seam where the glass has been put together, you can feel it with your finger and see it. Once, you've located the seam, you can saber with pretty much anything. You look at your seam on the bottle and you run your blade up and down, like lining up a pool shot."

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Step 5 - Strike!

"Generally speaking, you hold it in one hand at about a 45 degree angle. Make sure you're not pointing it at anybody because the cork will fly like 30 or 40 feet. It's not about the force involved; you're using the pressure inside the bottle to open it, not your arm strength. It's really about the physics and striking the bottle at the weakest point. If you do it correctly, the glass will just shear off the top. It's like pool or golf. When you've done it right, you just know it.

"It has nothing to do with the sharpness of the blade. You want to use the back of a knife or sword. You can ruin your knives otherwise. You can also fuck it up pretty easy."

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Step 6 - Clean Up

"The danger of getting glass in the actual bottle is pretty low because the pressure is pushing out. But even if you've sabred correctly, the lip of the bottle is going to be sharp cut glass. So you have to dispose of the bottle correctly because someone could cut themselves. It becomes a huge piece of broken glass. I've had staff members cut themselves on sabered [bottles]."

Step 7 - Drink

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"Once you've sabered a bottle, you're kind of obliged to drink the whole thing."

Step 8 - Rejoice

Whether you succeed or fail at sabering, the end result will be dramatic.

The stakes are high; people are watching, and you're probably already drunk. It's a recipe for disaster, which also turns out to be very same recipe for fabled party stories. Sabering Champagne bottles means walking the razor-thin line between being a bleeding mess and a party legend.

"It's always very funny when somebody fucks it up," Alessandro says. "Usually, you're doing it in front of a crowd of people and then you're left with wet shoes and a smashed bottle of wine. But the main point I would drive home is make sure you're not pointing the fucking thing at anybody and dispose of the bottle correctly."

Step 9 - Repeat

Cheers!