Whatever you think about the French, it's hard to deny that they tend to do everything with a certain panache. Not only do they produce some incredible champagnes, but since Napoleon's time they have been perfecting the art of opening the bottles with sabres, adding another dimension of sparkle to an already impressive drink. Show offs...
We need not surrender to our Gallic cousins just yet, however, as Londoners can also learn this art from the UK chapter of the Confrérie Du Sabre D'Or, which holds many of its events in the capital. The Confrérie, founded in 1986 to promote the enjoyment of champagne, both teaches people how to sabre champagne bottles and establishes 'caveaux' in which sabrage can be practiced.
Not only can you become a 'Sabreur' by beheading a bottle at a Confrérie event, but if you become a member you can gradually attain higher ranks by tackling bigger and bigger bottles. Not only does this get you serious kudos, but some of the ranks even come with a snazzy outfit and the perk of unlimited champagne at the society's events. Interestingly, unlike their French counterparts, officers of the UK Confrérie actually wear two different badges of office. This is because, as charming ex-gurkha and UK Confrérie Ambassador Julian White explains, British tradition decrees that no foreign award should be weightier than a domestic one. Thus the British section of the Confrérie Du Sabre D'Or also gives awards as the Order of the Golden Sabre, although sadly this does not mean that those with badges of rank are required to drink twice the amount of champagne.
There are many caveaux in London, including the Mandarin Oriental, Le Vacherin and The City Pipe. We attended the opening of new south London caveau India Dining, to see whether a night of booze and swords could be as fun as it sounded. That question was answered as soon as we walked through the door and found a gaggle of excited people gathered around a man with a large sabre and robes that wouldn't be out of place in science fiction. Each guest was given the chance to attack a bottle under his expert tutelage, the contents of which were then poured into glasses and distributed — essentially a slightly bellicose version of a champagne reception.
Sabrage, it turns out, is much easier than it appears. All you have to do is run a sharp object along the seam of the bottle toward the neck, which should pop off in pleasingly dramatic fashion. The trick is to do it in a smooth motion, as overly dramatic gestures are likely to result in chaos and/or embarrassment. Not only does the Confrérie teach you how to sabre a bottle, but they'll also give you your first severed cork in a cute green velvet bag as a souvenir! After the sabrage came a delicious six-course celebration menu, during which we met Confrérie members of all ages and professions whose passion for champagne was decidedly infectious.
Overall, it's hard not to love the combination of swords and champagne, and Confrérie events seem like a fun, welcoming place in which to learn a spectacular new party trick. Their events take place in London every couple of months, and you can find out more information on their website. If you'd like to try it at home (perhaps not on that vintage bottle of Krug you've been saving) you can also check out the Confrérie's handy tutorial.
For more information visit www.goldensabre.co.uk.