The Butler’s Friend is thought by many to be the ideal wine utensil for removal of fragile vintage corks. It can be at times the safest way to remove corks from valuable old vintage bottles, especially Bordeaux, Port, Madeira, Sauternes and other quality wines with fragile and difficult long corks. A precision engineered tool specifically designed to safely remove even the very oldest and most fragile of corks from vintage, cellared wine bottles.
It is so called - because it allowed the downstairs staff (i.e. Butler) when the master of the house had guests and before serving a bottle of wine for dinner. They could remove the cork, taste the wine, check for any faults, plus decant and filter the wine - and then replace the wine and cork without a trace.
Although it was often wondered, but never dared commented, what did they sometimes top up the wine with. The two prongs are inserted either side of the cork, which may then be removed by a combined twisting and pulling action - a stylish way of removing a cork.
The Butler’s Friend is a German invention, believed to have been invented in 1864 and then patented in the U.S in 1879. Also known as the: ‘Two-pronged (Gypsy) cork-puller’ - which is the name used in Russia; because it is used to remove corks without damage. In order to replace the cork: after changing the good wine with a poor substitute. As the Gypsy; has never figured in Russian folklore as a model of integrity. In France, where they often use this type of cork-pull in restaurants, they refer to it with a certain amount of sarcasm as the ‘Maitre D's’ corkscrew for similar reasons.
The Butler’s Friend is ideal in circumstances where the cork is very old, fragile, brittle corks or soaked in wine, extra long in length or the bottle is to be put away after a dinner for later enjoyment. It can also be used in situations where the cork has stuck to the bottle-neck and needs to be pulled out, which occasionally happens with vintage port. The Butler’s Friend has two spring-steel prongs fixed in parallel to a handle and set at a distance approximately equal to the diameter of the cork. Shaped like a large key with a flattened oval handle about 5cm x 8cm, and two thin metal blades, approximately 10cm long, 5mm wide and 0.5mm thick.
First, the longer of the two prongs is pushed between the cork and glass; this is followed by the shorter one on the opposite side of the cork. Both are then pushed down between the cork and the bottle-neck with gentle force until they can go no further. The cork is then jammed between the two prongs. Then the handle is twisted and the cork simultaneously pulling of the handle causes friction to turn the cork and pull it out of the bottle. This operation requires a certain amount of skill - as the Butler’s Friend can inadvertently push the cork further into the bottle instead of removing it.
The traditional corkscrew is easy to use, as the spiral helix requires little force to insert, minimizing the chances of accidentally pushing an old cork into the bottle. But the problem with very old and crumbling corks, is that all the upward force of the lever action is exerted only in the middle core of the cork. This can result in removal of only this center part of the cork, with the outer sides of the cork stuck to the inside of the neck. You then have to try and scrape the cork out manually, usually difficult to do without at least some of the cork falling into the wine, then requiring decanting the contents through a filter.
Experienced wine enthusiasts will often have both devices, so as to use the appropriate tool to open a bottle. Though it is almost impossible to know in advance where the weakness of a particular cork will occur - will it be prone to sliding into the bottle (so better to use a corkscrew than a Butler's Friend), or will the core crumble and break in half. The Butler's Friend also includes a metal sheath for convenient, safe storage in a pocket or drawer.