You have seen the spectacular art of champagne bottle sabrage in movies or on TV shows without necessarily knowing it had a quite specific name. You may also have thought it was some kind of trick using a special bottle. You probably just thought it was known as “really cool way of popping open a champagne cork by smacking the bottle with a knife or sword.” In Alabama, Zambia and certain parts of Indonesia, that is a perfectly acceptable synonym for the art of sabrage. This highly theatrical method of removing the corked end from a champagne bottle was made popular during Napoleon’s attempt to as a link between Alexander the Great and Hitler. Soldiers across Europe would use sabrage to get naïve country lasses into bed.
If you want to exhibit your own skill in the art of sabrage-or popping a champagne cork by slamming a blade across the bottle-you begin by chilling the bottle in a bucket of ice for 20 minutes. You don’t need to get your bottle to a point of freezing. Keep it in the bucket until it’s chilled enough for drinking since that’s what the end result of sabrage will be. You need the temperature of the bottle to wind up somewhere between 45 and 48 degrees according to Herr Fahrenheit. A bottle that is warmer or colder than this extremely tight window will not provide the perfect pressure and vibratory effects necessary to pull sabrage off.
Wipe away all the excess moisture from the bottle. Then tear away any foil or paper that covers the neck of the bottle. Twist off the cage that contains the cork and remove it. Examine your bottle of champagne closely. What you are looking for is quite specific. You want to find the exact spot where the seam meets up with the tip of the bottle.
At this point, you need to locate your old USMC honor guard saber. Or your Renaissance Fair sword. Or, hey, just the largest and most impressive knife in your kitchen drawer may do. But, honestly, why would you stick with a kitchen knife when you can head down to the local sword store and purchase a saber that will make pulling off the sabrage something that those who watch will never forget.
It doesn’t take a degreed mathemagician to pull off the fine art of sabrage, but you need to have a passing knowledge of how degrees work. For the most impressive results, you should grasp the bottle with one hand so that your thumb presses into its punt. (The indentation on the bottom of the bottle.) When you first start learning how to sabrage, however, you might do better by simply grasping the largest part of the bottle. The neck of the bottle should be pointing up and away at roughly a 30 degree angle. Take your sword or sword-like knife into your dominant hand and bring the blade toward the spot you located earlier in a firm, smooth motion. When done correctly, the result will be clean break that leaves the bottle of champagne minus its cork and the glass ring into which it is stuck.
Even if your attempt at sabrage meets perfection, expect an explosive rush of liquid from the bottle. If not done to perfection the entire bottle could explode in your hand. For this reason, when you start learning how to do it, it is recommended that you wrap the bottom portion of the bottle in a towel. This advice is less useful for sponging champagne than it is collecting glass shards without cutting your hand.
What’s the trick behind a successful sabrage? That spot where the seam meets the lip is surprisingly weak. When perfect pressure has built up inside the bottle, a clean rupture becomes almost impossible to avoid unless you just completely miss the spot.