“Glass Act,” America West Airlines Magazine

by Lori DeBoer

Popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly is a time-honored way of ringing in the New Year, but those with some special training take the tradition one spectacular step further: They sever the bottle’s stem with a saber.

This chic champagne trick began with Napoleon’s cavalry officers, who were rewarded with bottles of the sparkling spirit during military campaigns.  “Warring is thirsty business,” says Jehan de Noue, who gives sabering demonstrations at his restaurant, Chez Noue, in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  “the officers would put the bottles in their saddlebags and, as they were retreating or advancing, they would take the bottles from their satchels and saber them right there on horseback.”

The tradition lives on with Le Club des Sabreurs, whose 14 members include George Hamilton and Julia Child, and the Sabreur d’Or, which has about 300 members worldwide.  When wannabe members of Le  Club have mastered the art, they receive their own saber at an induction ceremony.

Hitting the bottle is trickier than it sounds: One false slash and the bottle explodes in the saberer’s hands under 80 to 100 pounds of pressure per square inch, says Peter Aeby, Le Club member and managing director of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, where he’ll demonstrate the technique during a New Year’s Eve gala. He advises the untrained shouldn’t try this at home and certainly not on a domestic bottle, whose glass is too thin for  such sword shenanigans.  One of Aeby’s mishaps, in which he drenched himself with champagne, ran on ESPN as the “Play of the Day.”

When done correctly, a precise stroke cuts the glass below the cork with a pop, the top flies 20 to 30 feeta nd the champagne flows like a fountain–sheer, not to mention shear, bliss for any millenium celebration.

“Glass Act” originally appeared in the December 1999 issues of America West Airlines Magazine.