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How to saber a bottle of champagne (or any bubbly)

July 2nd, 2009 · 23 Comments · Sabering

Posted by Dave Arnold

Last Sunday my cousin, James (the guy who drew the cartoons for this blog), introduced me to his buddy, Devin Coldewey, a tech stuff reviewer for CrunchGear. He brought with him the coolest point-and-shoot camera I’ve ever seen, the Casio Exilim FC-100 (his review here).  This thing costs $300 and shoots slo-mo video at 1000 frames per second! 1000 frames!! Anyway, I cooked him dinner and in return, he agreed to come in Monday and shoot slo-mo of us sabering champagne.  So here it is: How to saber champagne, complete with slo-mo video (scroll to the bottom of this post).  Oh, and Casio: we’re adding the Exilim FC-100 to our wish-list (of things to get for free).  In fact, if we got one, we’d probably find a reason to use it weekly, if not daily.

Before we start: I don’t want to hear anything about saber vs sabre. Both are acceptable spellings, I do not fence, and saber looks more American.

While we are clearing the air, many people feel that sabering sparkling wine is useless and wasteful. I disagree. Sabering expensive champagne is wasteful (if you make a mistake). Sabering a $7 cava is an exhilarating and awesome party trick.  Whether or not a bottle will saber depends only on the bottle, not the price of the wine – so stick with the inexpensive.

What is sabering? Sabering is the art of cleanly severing the top off a bottle of sparkling wine. You hit the lower lip of the top of the champagne bottle and snap off the top of the neck. Yes, you break the glass; No, the glass doesn’t get into the drink because the momentum carries it away from the neck (but you may get a shard on the floor so be careful).  This works because there is a sharp radius where the lip meets the neck that concentrates stress, making the bottle want to snap cleanly.

Oh Yeah

Oh Yeah

Here is the procedure:

  1. Select a bottle that looks like a standard champagne bottle.  Don’t pick one with a funky neck – it might not work (although I have a friend who can saber beer bottles).  Super-important tip: select a bottle you KNOW will saber.  If you sabered a bottle before (Paul Chenaux Cava, for instance or Gruet sparkling), odds are it will work again.  If you have failed with a bottle before (Cristallino Cava), you will probably fail again.  You don’t want to fail, it is embarrassing.
  2. The bottle should be cold and let it rest upright for a while before you saber it.  Be gentle with the bottle before you saber.  Warmer bottles are easier to saber but tend to gush.  The best saber jobs don’t gush at all (take that anti-saber snobs).  You’ll see gushing in the bottles on the video because they warmed up while we were shooting and were treated roughly.
  3. Don’t take off the wire cage until you are ready (or the cork may come out on its own).
  4. Get a knife.  It doesn’t need to be heavy.  In fact it doesn’t have to be a knife.  I made a stainless steel pimp ring to saber at parties.  REMEMBER: you are using the back (dull) side of the knife.  I saw a drunk friend one night forget this and ruin a good chef’s knife.
  5. super-saber pimp-ring

    super-saber pimp-ring

  6. Find the seam running up the side of the bottle.  The seam is a weak point in the glass and further concentrates the stress when you hit the lip.
  7. Champagne_bottle_neck_anatomy

  8. Angle the bottle away from you, your friends, glass, and food (don’t want any glass getting in your food).
  9. Place knife on the bottle’s seam at the bottom of the neck making sure you keep the knife flat against the bottle.  If you don’t, the knife has a tendency to pop over the lip of the bottle.
  10. correct knife angle

    correct knife angle

    KnifeNotLikeThisSilho

  11. The moment of truth.  Slide the knife smoothly, surely, and SQUARELY up the neck of the bottle and sever the top.  It doesn’t take force, just confidence.  The biggest and most common mistake is to swing the knife in an arc.  If you swing in an arc, even a small one, you won’t hit the glass in the right place and you won’t sever the neck. Embarrassing – see the video at the end of the post.
  12. proper way to saber

    proper way to saber

    don't swing like this

    don't swing like this

  13. If it doesn’t work, try again.  Don’t try 5 or 6 times on the same bottle.  Seems desperate and if the bottle doesn’t want to saber and you force it to, you might get a bad break.
  14. Remember that the momentum carries all the glass shards away from the neck and your drink (that’s why I told you to hold it at an angle).

Well, there it is.  We are starting a list of which bottles saber well and which don’t, so please leave comment to tell us.  Here is the video, enjoy:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8RFRm_-WtU]

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • Roger

    SO awesome. Sabering pretty much trumps any other method of opening a bottle, though I never knew quite how to do it before. Think I’ll practice at home first — I don’t want to embarrass myself or injure others.

    And I got one of those cameras the moment I read about them, too. Slow-mo for the masses! Yeah!

  • Roberto N.

    I remember when in New Year’s Dinner, Fabio Trabocchi sabered a bottle of Prosecco at midnight… pretty good show. The next year, we were slammed, no prosecco, no saber, no nada… I need to get some budget into rehearsing this…

    Awesome Pimp ring!

  • Clare

    Great demo on Tuesday. So glad you decided to include this. One question: can this or has this been done with other carbonated beverages such as a 40 oz beer bottle?
    Id love to be able to saber a bottle of beer! :)
    thanks

    • Dave A

      I haven’t seen a 40 done, but I’ve seen plenty of regular beer bottles done. They work, but a lot of the time you get bad breaks on ‘em. I have added my own bubbly drinks to old champagne bottles, capped them with a crown caps, and sabered them.

    • Chris

      I’ve sabered beer bottles with a hatchet, and it works fine. You just need to make sure it has the lip (typically only on bottles that don’t have screw tops).

  • rachey

    … YOU are a saber job? this comment will definitely be awaiting moderation.

  • Joe L

    I have sabered. It always had great dramatic effect, but never drank. I have a weird paranoia about ingesting a glass shard.

  • Joy

    I didn’t even know you could do that. Very cool. Now I have to find someone to do it for me.

  • michaelharing

    Great topic for the fourth of July weekend. I’m gonna give it a shot!

  • erik wunderlich

    I have had a lot of success with planting the bottle neck deep in a bunch of ice, it seems to really help with the sabering process… Anyone else have comments about this? Great demo fellas!

  • Lars

    On the topic of other drinks this might work well with, I have found that Perrier bottles are good to practice with. They have a lip on the neck, and the glass is nice and thick helping avoid bad breaks.

  • Tronimus

    Think a full-tang carbon steel samurai sword would work?

  • Dave A

    I saw a bunch of comments on the meta filter site where people were concerned with glass shards. I have sabered hundreds of bottles over the last 12 years, with sabers, with knives, with pimp rings, etc. I have never had anyone come up with a glass shard in their drink. Plenty of glass shards on the floor. The pressure in the bottle plus the forward motion of the knife insures that the glass shards are propelled forward. As long as you hold the bottle as close to horizontal as you can without spilling, glass won’t go back into the neck. I disagree that gushing insures safety, however. If glass did get into the neck, gushing wouldn’t get it out. Gushing isn’t immediate, and glass sinks.

  • Vidiot

    If you’re concerned about glass, you can always pour the bubbly through a strainer. I’ve never had a problem, though.

    And you should totally sell those pimp rings. I’d buy.

  • Joe MacBu

    Nice money shot.

  • Rob the IT Guy (AKA WHM's doppelganger)

    Hey Dave -
    I love the bottle saber tutorial! I am going to a party tonight and will try my hand at it, without any practice! I am sure there will be some embarrassment involved-

  • mslaas

    It’s easy to inspect a bottle to see if it has a seam before you buy. I’ve heard that French bottles are more likely to have the seam – I don’t know if its true, though.

    The bottle is also more saber-able if you immerse it in icy water for 20 minutes or so prior to the uncorking.

  • amadge

    works well on almost all beer bottles and anyone can do it! but he’s right though, you gotta be confident. i’ve been sabering beers for years and it is always a crowd-pleaser! everytime you saber a drank takes every party that is at a 7 to an immediate 10!

  • booklasvegasholidays

    Wow – I have seen someone do this on the tv recently and would love to try but scared to – might have to have a go now I have read this instructions – will let you know how it goes!

  • Mary Sanavia

    Great video!!! I will saber very soon!!
    You should market those pimp rings!!!

  • Michael

    I was just watching a movie last night where the waiter did this and my nephew had asked if he cut the bottle when he did it and my sister had explained that he just removed the cork. now I get to tell her she was wrong, he DID cut the bottle. Well sort of. lol

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