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Munchies

How Not to Kill Yourself While Popping Champagne with a Sword

All you really need to have a good time in the summer is a cold bottle of Champagne and a sword. The physics of sabering are simple, but here's a way to do it without losing an eye or your favorite house pet.

by Alice Lascelles
Jun 30 2015, 4:43pm

I write about drinks for a living, and all this time, I've been lecturing people about how important things like ice and lemon wedges are, and how they should keep their vermouth in the fridge. I've also advised to only drink gin that's over 40 percent ABV, or how parties should start at 7 PM and feature proper glassware and lighting that makes everyone look hot.

Well, I take it all back. Actually, all you need to have a good time is a bottle of Champagne and a sword. Because, whether you're on the beach, in a kitchen, at a barbecue, or throwing a house party, there is nothing that makes a party go out with a bang quite like a spot of sabrage.

Supposedly invented by the Napoleonic cavalry to impress the widow 'Veuve' Clicquot, the swashbuckling art of opening Champagne with a sword is actually a lot easier than it looks. In fact, you don't even need a sword to do sabrage. You can pull it off with a butter knife, a flat bottle opener, or even as I did this week, the foot of a Champagne flute. Because it's not about strength, it's about the swing. Get that right, and you don't need much more than a gentle tap to knock the cork and surrounding glass clean off (often, without spilling a drop).

I've shared the secrets to sabrage in my new book, Ten Cocktails: The Art of Convivial Drinking, but because I'm nice, I'm going to give them to you here, now, for free:

  1. Take a bottle of champagne and remove the cage and every last bit of foil.
  2. Carefully lay the bottle on your open palm so that the cork is pointing away from you and any windows/friends/pets/precious vases. Then locate the seam that runs the length of the bottle and make sure it's facing up, as this is what you're going to run your sword along.
  3. Take your sword and lay it flat on the bottle at right angles to the seam with the blunt edge facing forward. This isn't intuitive, but it's the blunt edge that does the business.
  4. Relax, breathe out, and then slide the sword in one long, fluid motion along the line of the bottle until its blunt edge collides with the collar (the weakest point in the bottle). At this point, the top should shoot off in a single, clean break.

The physics are simple, and yet every time I do it (and I've done it a lot—even at my own wedding), people get completely freaked out by it. And once they've stopped staring at the decapitated cork in amazement, they all start clamoring to have a go. And that's when even the most macho guy starts really feeling the pressure. Their hands tremble, their shoulders get tense, and their voices start going all squeaky as they wonder if they're going to be the one to choke.

And then some lady steps up to the plate, takes the sword, and with one, elegant swing makes the cork go thock! and everyone goes wild and starts jumping up and down, swaggering around. It's like a scene from 8 Mile. But with Champagne. And swords.

You can do sabrage with prosecco and cava, too. Just make sure it's well-chilled because this will increase your chances of success. And don't be tempted to drink straight from a freshly sabered bottle—in the heat of the moment, this may seem like a good idea, but it's the surest way to give yourself a Chelsea smile.

My next ambition is to saber a bottle of Champagne cavalry-style, on horseback. So where will you be sabring this summer? And can you do it with something even flimsier than a Champagne flute? Tweet me your sabring triumphs at @alicelascelles #tencocktailssabrage.

Alice Lascelles is the author of Ten Cocktails: The Art of Convivial Drinking, published by Saltyard Books. Out now—priced at £16.99—and is available in both ebook and on Amazon.