It’s happened to everyone at some point. Drunk or sober, defective cork or not, you have had to get into a bottle of wine or beer without breaking the bottle. While cork and cap technology is great for keeping the wine or beer in, it can also thwart any attempt to get it out if you don’t happen to have an opener. Picnickers, campers, and all sorts of folks have had to contend with this, and how they get to the liquid isn’t always pretty. Before there was a cork or cap, how did people get into their drink of choice?
Human beings have been drinking wine for about 10,000 years. In the good old days, Neolithic, Phoenician, Greek, and Roman winemakers used clay amphorae to store and move their wine about. Pottery was a fragile medium and broke easily, but there were other challenges, too. The shape was awkward to maneuver and the amphorae were so heavy when filled that they had to be moved with a cart or a beast of burden. Beer was slightly different. For centuries, it was made by the woman of the house, brewed when needed and stored in clay jars in small amounts, or later, in barrels when larger quantities were needed.
The invention of sturdy glass bottles was hastened in the 1600s, when coal burning furnaces were invented that could reach temperatures high enough (3,000 to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit) to fire thicker, sturdier glass that could travel well and didn’t break easily. The Industrial Revolution made mass production of beer, wine, and bottles feasible and affordable. Corks and crown caps (the crimped metal caps) sealed the deal and made the glass bottle a very user-friendly and travel-friendly package.
Follow through to today, and we humans have come up with a lot of different ways to open a bottle of wine or beer when an opener is nowhere to be found.
Wine: use a wooden spoon
If you screwed up getting the cork out of the bottle and it’s so damaged you can’t get it out with the worm (the screw part of the corkscrew), just take the easy way out. Grab a long-handled wooden spoon, breathe deeply, and then gently but firmly push the cork down into the bottle. If there are any little bits of cork floating in the wine (there shouldn’t be, but just in case), pour the wine through a fine strainer with a funnel and into a decanter. This is a much classier way to serve the wine than pouring the wine with the cork bobbing up and down to announce to the world that you don’t know how to use a corkscrew.
Wine: tae a saber to it
Sometimes you want to make an entrance or make a big deal out of opening the wine. If that’s so, you can use the centuries-old technique called sabrage. This involves using a saber (a blunt one made just for the tradition) to slice off the head of the bottle, cork and all. This technique was first used by Napoleon Bonaparte’s cavalry, the Hussars, to celebrate victory in battle. Corkscrews were not regular military issue. Bonaparte was a huge fan of Champagne and had no problem telling his commanders to “sabrez la bouteille”—”saber the bottle.”
Wine: use string
If you don’t have a saber or a makeshift corkscrew but the idea of leaving the cork in the bottle really bothers you, there is a solution. With some pushing and some twine or a shoelace, you can open a bottle of wine and remove the cork, too. Make a strong knot at one end of the string, making sure the string is long enough to go into the bottle past the cork. Using a small screwdriver or strong, thin tool, force the knotted end of the string into the bottle past the cork. (You can still make it work if you push the cork all the way in, but try not to.) Once you have the knot past the bottom of the cork, slowly but firmly pull on the string. The knot should pull the cork up through the neck and out of the bottle.
If you pushed the cork in and you want to get it out, it takes a little more work, but it’s still possible. You’ll need to put in a lot of string. Once you’ve done that, cover the mouth of the bottle firmly with your thumb, then flip the bottle upside down and back upright until you can get the knot of the string past the cork and then get the cork to float back into position near the neck of the bottle. Now you should be able to work the cork out by pulling on the string.
Wine: get out your bike pump
This method has to be one of our favorites and could have been discovered by the domestiques of the Tour de France. It’s unclear who first tried it, but if you are an avid cyclist, you can easily remove a cork with just your bike tire pump. Simply place the tire stem pipe into the cork and start pumping. In a second or two, voila! You have your cork out, have your wine, can re-cork if need be, and you can continue on your way.
Wine: use a shoe
Yes, that’s right, a shoe. Now, this is not recommended with an expensive bottle of wine or an expensive pair of shoes, for that matter. You should also probably skip this method if you are trying to impress your date or if a real wine connoisseur is present. However, sometimes, desperate situations call for desperate methods. You’ll need at least three minutes, as well as a sturdy wall that won’t be damaged under pressure and a relatively clean shoe with plenty of padding. If you have all that, then opening the bottle is just a matter of placing the bottle into the heel of the shoe, pounding on a solid wall slowly, and doing this long enough that the cork starts to come out of the bottle.
Wine: use your keys
Who knew car keys could be so handy? When it comes to getting to the important stuff, they’re the bomb. To open a bottle of wine with your keys, shove the key into the cork at about a 45-degree angle. It should cut into the center of the cork until just the butt of the key is sticking out. Then get the cork moving in a circular motion and slowly start pulling up while rotating it. Once it comes out far enough, you can just grab the cork to finish the job.
Beer: use your keys
For a beer bottle, the process is different (unless you have some corked beer lying around). To open a beer bottle with your keys, firmly grab the neck of the beer bottle. Your fingers should be almost touching the cap. Then place the shaft of the key between your finger and the bottom edge of the cap. Leverage your key up under the rim of the cap, and it should pry the crimped edges away from the mouth of your precious bottle.
Beer: use a countertop
Getting into a bottle of beer when an opener is nowhere in sight is as easy as finding a countertop or a table edge. Just place one edge of the bottle cap on top of the counter or table, hold the neck of the bottle tight, and use your other hand to come down forcefully on the bottle top. This may take more than one attempt (okay, it took me more than six tries), but the cap should come right off and you can do the same for your drinking companions’ beers, too.
Beer: use another bottle
In the search for opener alternatives, there are plenty of urban myths, stories, and scary ways to get the job done, but some of us draw the line at knives, scissors, and other sharp objects. Sometimes, the easiest, safest, and most obvious methods get overlooked. Believe it or not, you can open one bottle of beer with another, whether the bottle you are using as the opener is still capped or already empty. This takes practice, but you simply hold the bottle to be opened on a sturdy surface and firmly grip the neck up near the edge. You then turn the second bottle upside down, use the side of that bottle’s cap to wedge up underneath the first bottle’s cap, and strongly pry upward on the cap of the bottle to be opened. With enough strength, it will snap right off and you can start drinking that nice, cold beer.
If you want to use an empty beer bottle as your opener, you bring the lip of the empty bottle under the edge of the cap, get your fingers situated firmly underneath to hold it in place, and then just pop it off as in the video above.
Beer: use paper
Yes, you can use a dollar bill to open a beer bottle if you really want to, but if you work too hard for your money to risk it on a bottle of beer, any paper will work. So, here’s Moe, from the Professional Bartending School in Arlington, Virginia, to show us how to do it simply by folding the paper.
The secret is the strength of the paper as it’s folded multiple times into a square. This square (using the corner) is then strong enough to open your beer. Wedge it up under the cap and push upward with force to pop the cap. You can now show off this technique to all the doubters and the haters out there.
If you still need other ideas for opening a bottle of beer, here are 36 other ways to do it using everything from a bullet to chopsticks.