5:10am

Sat February 23, 2013
The Salt

A Dramatic Way To Uncork The Bubbly: Use A Sword

Originally published on Sat February 23, 2013 9:07 pm

Knocking off the top of a Champagne bottle with a saber — known as sabrage — is an old rite in Europe, and a novel addition to American celebrations. But there's an art to doing it right.

Becky Sue Epstein knows a lot about taking Champagne drinking to the next level. She's the author of the book Champagne: A Global History. Sabering represents two of her passions, ones that common sense might suggest should not be combined.

"Even before I wrote the book, I loved Champagne. So I also love swords. So what I thought I would do was learn to saber off the top of a Champagne bottle," Epstein says.

Epstein learned to saber in Italy, with a small ceremonial sword made just for sabering. At home, she uses a 3-foot long Civil War replica sword, which according to one theory on the origin of the practice is actually quite appropriate.

"Apparently, this started in the time of Napoleon when there were wars all through the Champagne region. And the soldiers would come and grab a bottle of Champagne while they were on horseback; they would just take their saber and knock the top and drink it down," she says.

It's all about technique, Epstein says, and it's really very simple: Get the bottle very cold. Unwrap the foil and cage, then find the seam where the two halves of the bottle meet. Run your sword up the seam to the lip, and give it a strong knock. The top of the neck will come right off.

Epstein says you don't actually need a saber to do this: You can do it with the back of a chef's knife, or really any sturdy instrument. So, yes, you can do this at home, but like so many fun things, that doesn't mean you should.

"Do not try this at home. Never try this at home. Remember, I told you not to do this," Epstein says.

So perhaps leave this party trick to the experts. But don't worry — if you can't do without it for your next event, professional saberers are available for hire.

And if you're really set on trying it yourself, there are plenty of videos available as guides. Just make sure to try it on your first bottle, not the last.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DON GONYEA, HOST:

If you're inclined to celebrate the Oscars with a champagne toast, one way to kick up the drama is not to simply uncork your bottle but decapitate it. One thing you'll need, of course, is someone trained in this celebratory art of sabrage - knocking off the top of a champagne bottle with a saber. It's an old rite in Europe, and a novel addition to American celebrations. Katherine Perry has this story on the festive, sometimes frightening, ritual of sabering.

KATHERINE PERRY, BYLINE: Becky Sue Epstein knows a lot about taking champagne drinking to the next level. She's the author of "Champagne: A Global History." When she offered to demonstrate sabering for me, my first concern was, quite frankly, for my own safety. Is this at all dangerous, either for the drinker or the saberer?

BECKY SUE EPSTEIN: Yeah, it's dangerous for everyone, so stand back.

PERRY: Epstein had gathered a group together in her yard in Lexington, Massachusetts to show off her sabering skill. Sabering represents two of her passions - ones that common sense might suggest should not be combined.

EPSTEIN: Even before I wrote the book, I loved champagne. So, I also love swords. So, what I thought I would do was learn to saber off the top of a champagne bottle.

PERRY: Epstein learned to saber in Italy with a small ceremonial sword made just for sabering. At home, she uses a three-foot-long Civil War replica sword, which, according to one theory on the origin of the practice, is actually quite appropriate.

EPSTEIN: Apparently, this started in the time of Napoleon when there were wars all through the Champagne region. And the soldiers would come and grab a bottle of champagne. While they were on horseback they would just take their saber and knock the top off and then drink it down.

PERRY: It's all about technique, Epstein says, and it's really very simple: get the bottle very cold, unwrap the foil and cage...

(SOUNDBITE OF UNWRAPPING)

PERRY: ...find the seam where the two halves of the bottle meet, run your sword up the seam to the lip, and give it a strong knock.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWORD STRIKING BOTTLE)

GONYEA: The top of the neck comes right off.

EPSTEIN: Okay, bring in your glasses.

(LAUGHTER)

EPSTEIN: A clean cut.

PERRY: Epstein says and you don't actually need a saber to do this. You can do it with the back of a chef's knife or really any sturdy instrument. So, yes, you can do this at home, but, like so many fun things, that doesn't mean you should.

EPSTEIN: Do not try this at home. Never try this at home. Remember, I told you not to do this.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: So, perhaps leave this party trick to the experts. But don't worry. If you can't do without it for your next event, professional saberers are available for hire. For NPR News, I'm Katherine Perry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONYEA: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.