Sometimes the most effective tool has the simplest design. Take the corkscrew, for instance. The original design might have been ingenious, but today, that simple design seems so obvious that even when we try to produce a better gadget, we realise that the original is still the most effective and affordable way to open a bottle and get to the treasured liquor inside.
Where does the clever corkscrew come from? Like many other famous tools, it was born out of necessity. The earliest reference to the corkscrew is from 1680, when the English had to open their glass beer and cider bottles. This little tool to joy was based on the steel or gun “worm”, a device used to clean the barrels of muskets. While the simple screw design was so effective that we still use it today, variations and adjustment over the years have made the tool a little easier and more enjoyable to use.
Although the screw design was in use for more than a century already, the first patent for a corkscrew was granted in 1795. The English Reverend Henshall affixed a simple disk between the worm and the shank to prevent the worm from going too far into the cork, it forces the cork to turn and release the adhesion between cork and bottle neck. The disk’s concave bottom ensured pressure on the cork to keep it intact. This effective design was used for more than a century before another few design additions were made.
Another Englishman who wanted to get to his beer was Edward Thompson who patented screws going in opposite directions despite the user only turning in a single direction. This design ended up as the “Zig-Zag” corkscrew.
The corkscrew predominantly used in the wine trade and hospitality (and I bet you have one in your cutlery drawer at home), is called the Waiter’s friend. This corkscrew folds like a pocketknife and has the addition of a lever (or two) that leverages from the top side of the bottle neck. The lever is also used to flip beer caps and the tool usually also comes with a foil cutter to open the capsule that covers the bottle neck and cork.
Another style of corkscrew that most of us grew up with, is the wing design. Patented in 1988 in Britain, such a double lever corkscrew made its way to the US where it was patented by the Italian designer, Dominick Rosati. While I prefer the Waiter’s friend, this wing design is effective when it is made of good quality, heavier metal.
And then there is the corkscrew that makes life really easy. With the initial design by Herbert Allen, this style of corkscrew became known as the Rabbit. The single lever dive into the cork, pull it out and then release the screw from the cork. It is very efficient, but usually pricier than my favourite.
If you like to mature your wines, the Durand corkscrew might be a good investment. Designed to safely remove fragile corks, it has prongs that slip in between the cork and the bottleneck to assist in keeping the cork intact.
Getting a smooth cork out of an inflexible glass bottle can be very hard without the use of this nifty little tool that is the corkscrew. When a tool does the job it is invented for, it is a success and even though it was fine-tuned and adjusted over the years, at its core, the screwcap is close to its original design. Perhaps that is why we often use alternative ways to distinguish corkscrews. They are regularly used as part of multi-tools, display unique branding, are dressed up to be more exclusive and expensive or even have artistic and fun elements.
While it is really only about opening your bottle of wine, much of your corkscrew choice depends on your personal preference, style and budget. Do check that your corkscrew has a foil cutter and that it is of a convenient size – I believe in pocket-friendly. If you use your corkscrew as a work tool and take it with you all the time, consider that very much like pens, they easily get lost. Good quality at a reasonable price is your answer. If you use your corkscrew as part of the ceremony of opening a special vintage from the cellar, it would be wise to invest in the Durand design or a showpiece made from expensive wood or with artistic ivory inserts, for instance.
If you managed to get your bottle open without breaking the glass or the cork, your corkscrew has done its job well. I would say, raise a glass to the humble corkscrew!