A Champagne bottle, cavalry sword and a celebration in full swing – what could be more ceremonial or flamboyant! Champagne sabrage has long been seen as a sign of celebration and victory, but when did this type of celebration first start? And, as many people are inevitably thinking – is it easy to do?
The origins of Champagne sabrage
It’s been reported that the tradition began with Napoleon’s infamous cavalry, the Hussars. When celebrating their spectacular victories across Europe, Napoleon encouraged them to drink Champagne and the art of sabrage was something they did to impress the local ladies. It’s also been reported that Madame Clicquot used to entertain the officers in her vineyard. They’d ride off in the morning, using their sword to take out the cork in an act of flamboyance.
However, sabrage wouldn’t be possible, if it wasn’t for the sabre. This was the Hussar’s weapon of choice and became popular for them, just after the French Revolution. This type of backsword had a curved, single-edged blade. It became the standard weapon of cavalry for mounted action in most armies, until World War I. They were replaced with less curving blades and eventually, horse-mounted cavalry was replaced by armoured units. The sabre was then gradually relegated to more of a ceremonial weapon.
Today, Champagne swords are specially made for sabrage. They usually consist of a 12 inch long, blunt blade and resemble a large knife – although longer, more ceremonial blades are still used.
The art of sabrage
It is actually the design of the bottle that is key to sabrage. In fact, if you have the right angle, you can remove the cork with a spoon! If you’re using a sword or sabre, the blade must be blunt (or you can use the blunt side of the sword instead), as you aren’t looking to damage the cork, just to remove it.
To sabrage a bottle, you hold the bottle neck downwards, at an angle of about 20 degrees. The sword is then cast down against the cork, forcing it from the bottle.
But how does the bottle design help? Well, they hold an immense amount of pressure, so the glass is thick. However, the lip of the bottle opening creates a stress concentration. There’s also a faint vertical seam that runs along the bottle, that creates a second stress concentration. When you cast your sabre at the intersection of these two seams, the glass is 50% weaker here. The momentum and pressure exerted, causes a crack to appear and the pressure inside the bottle forces the cork (and often, the top of the bottle) flying through the air. And there you have it – the art of Champagne sabrage!