How to Sabrage Like a Pro
Do you know how to sabrage? We explore this time-honoured practice's history, with a step-by-step guide and tips for a flawless, safe sabrage experience.
Ever wanted to make a lasting impression at a celebration or special occasion? Then you simply need to know how to sabrage. This time-honoured bottle-opening technique marries history, skill, and a dash of theatrical flair.
Sabrage involves opening a sparkling wine bottle with a swift, precise stroke of a sabre, and this impressive act can be a real showstopper. Shared on Facebook or Instagram, your sabrage video could even catapult you to instant social media fame!
However, as much fun as sabrage can be, there are real risks to consider. In this article, we’ll guide you through all the steps and necessary precautions to create an unforgettable – and safe– sabrage moment.
The History of Sabrage
The art of sabrage originated in the early 19th century amidst the clashes and camaraderie of Napoleon Bonaparte and his army of cavalrymen.
Legend has it that they would not just employ their sabres on the battlefield but also in celebrating their victories. With a swift, confident swipe, these swashbuckling fighters would open champagne bottles by chopping the tops off bottles – corks and all!
Let’s explore this awe-inspiring tradition, taking a closer look at the tools, techniques, and safety tips that will see you become a seasoned sabrage pro in no time.
The Tools Needed for Sabrage
Each of the tools listed below plays a crucial role in ensuring a seamless and safe sabrage experience, so do take care to select the correct bottle and the right sabre (or kitchen knife).
Also, be sure to have a towel and eye protection handy. Once you have all these items, you will be ready for your sabrage moment.
A Sparkling Wine Bottle
This may seem obvious, but it’s important that you select a heavier glass bottle with a pronounced seam. These properties will reduce the risk of glass shattering during sabrage.
Please note that the pressure in most sparkling wines will not be sufficient for a safe sabrage experience. For successful and safe sabrage, always select a traditional method sparkling wine (such as Cap Classique or Champagne), as these wines develop a higher pressure in heavier glass bottles.
A Sabrage Sabre (or Kitchen Knife)
You’ll need a proper sabrage sabre or a heavy, broad-bladed kitchen knife. During sabrage, the flat, blunt edge of the sabre or knife will make contact with the bottleneck, triggering the seamless break.
The blade plays a vital role in achieving a clean and controlled cut, but take note – it’s the shock of the flat impact with the rim of the bottleneck (i.e., the non-sharp side of the blade) that triggers the break.
In short, successful sabrage has nothing to do with the sharpness of the blade. In fact, a sharp blade edge could introduce a crack in the rim of the bottleneck, causing a piece of glass to splinter off, causing a safety hazard.
If you have taken the necessary precautions, glass splintering during sabrage is unlikely. Yet, wearing safety glasses (or some form of eye protection) is still recommended, as it will shield your eyes from any glass debris or splinters that may result from the bottleneck’s break.
A Small Towel
A towel wrapped around the lower part of the chilled bottle will help you achieve the perfect grip and angle for a successful sabre stroke.
Chilling the Bottle for Sabrage
It’s very important that the bottle intended for sabrage is chilled overnight in the fridge to between 5 °C and 8 °C (42-46 °F). As a rule of thumb, the colder the bottle, the cleaner the break at the bottleneck will be.
Remember to always cool the bottle gradually and evenly. The bottle has to be uniformly cold. This will go a long way to ensuring a successful sabrage experience.
Resist the temptation to quickly chill bottles in the freezer or an ice bucket. Doing so will cool the glass unevenly, increasing the risk of the bottle shattering. Similarly, placing the bottle in an ice bucket can be dangerous, as doing so will only cool the base of the bottle.
The ideal way of chilling a bottle intended for sabrage would be to slowly and evenly cool it in a fridge for 24 hours to 5 °C .
The Sabrage Technique
Although it can look very dramatic and impressive, sabrage is not that complicated. The entire process only involves five easy steps:
#1 – Remove the Foil and Wire Cage
To begin, remove the foil and wire cage (French: muselet) covering the cork. Take care to ensure that there’s nothing obstructing the clean movement of the blade along the bottle’s seam to the rim of the bottleneck (just under the cork).
#2 – Hold the Bottle Correctly
Grip the well-chilled bottle firmly at the base, tilting it at a slight angle of about 45 degrees. Always ensure that the bottleneck points away from onlookers and objects. It is also important to make sure that the liquid inside the bottle doesn’t touch the cork.
#3 – Find the Bottle’s Seam
Find the subtle seams running along the sides of the bottle, from its base to its lip. These seams are where the two moulded halves of the bottle were joined. These seams are also the weakest parts of the bottle. Select one seam – this is where you’ll run your knife or sabre along, from the shoulder upwards (where the bottle starts to taper towards the neck).
Position your sabre – or broad, heavy kitchen knife – perpendicular to the bottle (with the blade face angled to make a shallow angle with the bottle), flat side gliding along one seam. Angle the blade to a slight incline, gently tracing the movement from the bottle’s shoulder to the rim of the neck, ensuring that the blade will run smoothly and meet the rim flat on.
#4 – Perform the Strike
Start with the flat side of the blade on the seam at the chilled bottle’s shoulder. In a single, swift motion – applying some force – quickly run the blade upwards. The force of the strike will separate the top of the bottleneck, cork still attached, from the bottle.
Remember – it is the pressure inside the bottle that cracks the bottle’s seam closest to the point of impact, not the strike of the sabre per se. When it comes to sabrage, it is helpful to understand that the movement is far more akin to a tennis backhand than an aggressive samurai slash.
#5 – Pour the Wine
Post sabrage, a cascade of bubbles will emerge, making for an unforgettable moment.
Ensure that all onlookers are holding a sparkling wine glass, ready to receive the wine bubbling forth from the opened bottle. Pour the wine, ensuring everyone gets a taste, ideally emptying the bottle so that it can safely be disposed of as quickly as possible.
Sabrage Safety Tips
As impressive as sabrage may be, ensuring that it’s also as safe as possible is of the utmost importance.
Here are some tips for ensuring a flawless and safe sabrage experience.
#1 – Set the Right Environment
Choose a spacious area for your sabrage moment. Opt for an outdoor setting or a room with ample space, and always make sure that onlookers are at a safe distance. Clear any potential obstacles out of harm’s way, and avoid pointing the bottle towards windows, portraits, or anything that might obstruct or be damaged by the bottleneck shooting off.
#2 – Dress for the Occasion
Opt for long sleeves to shield your arms from potential splinters. Avoid wearing loose clothing that could catch during the sabre stroke, and remember to wear eye protection in case of splintering glass.
#3 – Safely Dispose of the Glass Bottle
Post sabrage, the bottleneck will be extremely sharp – and dangerous. To be safe, empty the bottle into onlookers’ glasses on the first round, then dispose of the empty bottle by placing it neck first into a sturdy carton, ensuring no one gets hurt while disposing of the bottle.
#4 – Clean Up Afterwards
After the bubbles have settled and the applause has faded, it’s time to ensure a clean finale. If you have chilled the bottle sufficiently and followed all the necessary precautions, there should have been a clean break with no glass splintering.
However, it is advised that you always carefully check the area where the sabrage took place, collecting the glass bottleneck and cork, ensuring that there are no glass shards or debris left behind.
Sabrage: Important Dos and Don’ts
- Practice makes perfect. Hone your technique using safe tools to rehearse before making your sabrage debut.
- Chill the bottle well. Always ensure your bottle is uniformly cooled (inside and out) to the correct temperature (5-8 °C or 42-46 °F) to ensure a safe and successful sabrage.
- Safety first! Always wear protective gear and execute your sabrage in a secure, controlled environment. Ensure that no one is standing in front of you.
- Clean up well. Remember to tidy up the area after sabrage, removing any bits of remaining glass and other debris that may have been left behind.
- Never sabrage using a damaged or imperfect bottle. Always choose an intact, heavier glass bottle with clearly visible seams.
- Never aim the bottle at onlookers or fragile objects. Always direct the bottle away from bystanders and breakable objects.
- Never sabrage in inappropriate settings. Reserve your sabrage moment for fitting occasions, and always carry it out in a respectful manner.
A Time-Honoured Tradition
Much more than mere spectacle, the art of sabrage incorporates history, tradition, and celebration.
If you’d like to try your hand at sabrage, do remember the important basics of chilling the bottle well, finding the seam, and following all the necessary safety precautions.
To see how sabrage is done, watch our Taste What’s Possible video, where Alvi’s Drift brand ambassador and renowned wine expert Junel van der Merwe gives a brilliant demonstration, then grab a bottle of fine, bottle-fermented sparkling wine and put your sabrage skills to the test!
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