Champagne Cleavernova

There are certain party tricks I’d like to master–how to dance the tango, how to turn water into Châteauneuf-du-Pape and loaves into toasted coconut cream cupcakes, and above all else, how to open a bottle of bubbly with a cleaver.

In the video clip below, Olympic Provisions sommelier Carly Laws demonstrates one of her favorite party tricks, a technique known as sabrage, which was apparently very popular with Napoleon Bonaparte’s crowd. Not one to need a fancy saber when a vintage cleaver will do, Carly deftly beheads a bottle of Prosecco with one swift slice, earning our eternal admiration. She also tells me a little bit about how she came to possess this talent in the below interview.

It goes without saying–don’t try this at home. And please excuse my less-than-skillful videography. It’s on my list of things to master.

Carly, where and why did you learn how to open a bottle of bubbly with a cleaver? Is this part of your sommelier training?

I first witnessed the “saberage” of a bottle of bubbly in Vancouver, B.B. at some schmancy restaurant. Only instead of handing us a cleaver in the back of the kitchen, they said, “Mr. Day, would you like to saber your bottle in the cave?” (I was there with a boy named Mr. Day.) And of course he said yes, so we paraded down into the “cave” (which was more like an opulent basement than a real cave) and they handed him a sword (or a saber) (definitely not a meat cleaver) and gave him some pointers as to how to avoid cutting off his hand and then voila! we had pink bubbly in one fell swoop. It was thrilling and delicious all at the same time. And since then I’ve been hooked, although the occasion to saber something is rare (but definitely becoming more common due to my predilection for all things sparkly these days).

From what I’ve read, the practice dates back to the time of Napoleon and his silly soldiers trying to open bottles of champs on horseback (which is apparently hard to do while holding reigns, a glass and a bottle).

I would imagine a lot of people are surprised to witness your unusual talent. How do people usually react?

To be honest, the only other people I’ve sabered a bottle in front of besides you and Michelle is Jason (Barwikowski, Olympic Provisions’ Executive Chef and Laws’ husband), our two cats Meatwad and Chub, and the three tweakers walking down the street when I did it in our front yard a Sunday or two ago. The cats weren’t impressed. The tweakers definitely were. They actually gave us a shout out.

Do you ever worry about missing the bottle and cutting off your hand and having to wear a metal hook on your wrist for the rest of your life, or is sabrage pretty foolproof once you’ve got the hang of it?

Metal hooks are hot. But it’s easy, so no worries there.

With summer coming up, I’m sure people will want to know–does this trick work on whites and roses, or just sparklies?

As Tyler demonstrated (see clip below) while trying to make us a rosé slushy the other night, it really only works on champagne-style bottles. These bottles are made with two separate pieces – the bottle and the collar of the bottle – and as you hit the collar of the bottle with the blade, it causes stress and the top (collar) wants to snap off in one piece. The pressure inside the bottle generally guarantees that no glass will fall into the wine, which is great and you can (carefully) drink from the rim with relatively little to no worries about gashing your mouth.

Of course, if you see me with a f***ed up mouth one day, you’ll know I did this poorly.

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See Olympic Provisions’ co-owner Tyler Gaston’s questionable usage of the sabrage technique to liberate a bottle of frozen rose: