Ganbei! 8 things you probably don’t know about Chinese New Year

So just as the rest of the world is finally over their hangovers and dreading the arrival of the holiday credit card bills, the world’s largest population is about to kick off their new year’s celebration.  It’s Chinese New Year!  You’re probably saying to yourself, “What’s that have to do with craft liquor?” Well, keep going, intrepid reader, I’m about to enlighten you!

1. The Chinese calendar follows a twelve year cycle (called Earthly Branches), with each year symbolized by an animal that corresponds to the Chinese zodiac.  (Unlike the one you may be familiar with, the Chinese zodiac goes by your birth year, not birth month). 2014, Year of the Horse, is one of the Chinese people’s favorite animals; it is said to symbolize speedy success.  Horses are also considered elegant and confident.  Sounds like an auspicious year, right?  So let’s start it out right – make a Bloody Mary with your favorite craft vodka like Tito’s and a goodly dose of horseradish to start the year off right! 

2. Red and yellow/gold are considered lucky colors in Chinese culture.  It corresponds to fire and symbolizes good fortune and joy.  There’s a Chinese saying, “Yellow generates Yin and Yang,” which implies that yellow is the center of everything.  So have another Bloody Mary (or perhaps Caesar if you like clamato juice)!  Or you can try something like the Red Lotus, which is vodka and lychee, a sweet fruit with a delicate flavor (think pear-like) often found in Chinese cooking. 

3. Hong bao, or red envelopes, are used to give monetary gifts for holidays and special occasions like weddings.  The money should always end in an even number – odd numbers are for funerals.  And don’t give just $4 (cheapskate!) – the word for 4 sounds like the word for death.

4. Speaking of gifts that would be well-received when visiting for Chinese New Year, bring oranges.  The word for tangerine sounds like the word for gold, and the word for clementines sounds like the word for luck.  Who wouldn’t want a bag of gold and luck!? When in doubt, bring citrus.  If all else fails – you can make screwdrivers (boring) or a yummy whiskey sour with bourbon.  Check out’s variation called a Stone Sour, though try Michter’s or Breckenridge’s  bourbon in place of the suggested fowl bourbon.  (pun fully intended, I’ve never been much of a fan)Gung Hay Fat Choy from LikeYourLiquor!

5. Make sure you also avoid the color white – it represents death and mourning.  No white Russians or brandy Alexanders please.   And for the love of all holiday attire, now’s not the time for white pants.  Just sayin’.

6. Confucianism stresses the importance of maintaining a clear head – drinking games are won by the SOBER guy.  Who knew?? (apparently the guy that wrote this book did)

7. Firecrackers are used to ward off evil spirits. How about this firecracker cocktail? I’d try some Papa’s Pilar dark rum or Ballast Point’s barrel-aged Three Sheets in it.  And I know, you may be tempted to go for one of those fireball-flavored whiskeys, but please – have a little self respect.  You know better than to drink something like that! Firecrackers ward OFF evil spirits, not encourage you to suck them down.

8. And the best part?  Chinese New Year is FIFTEEN DAYS LONG.  Many of us have a hard time getting through a single night of that kind of fun – my hat is off to anyone that can do it for two weeks! Oh, and the 15 day thing? The new year celebration is a combination of lunar and solar movements, starting with the first new moon of each calendar year and ending on the full moon.

And you’re probably still wondering about the title: Ganbei is a traditional toast, like Bottoms Up or Cheers!  And 8 is the most auspicious number of all.  Not only does it sound like the words that mean prosper or wealth, the visual of 88 looks like the characters for double joy or double happiness.

 So, Ganbei! Gung Hay Fat Choy!

About Jeanne Runkle

Jeanne Runkle currently lives in San Diego, and is a certified bartender and craft liquor expert. Her specialty is the brown stuff, whether it's bourbon, rye or good old American whiskey. She can sometimes be found stalking the aisles of a liquor store near you, answering your random whiskey questions.

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