Gung hay fat choy! This Saturday (Jan. 28) ushers in the Year of the Rooster with bright red packages, shiny gold coins and festively fizzy cocktails.
“It’s spring, so you want lighter flavours, and everyone loves bubbles at New Year’s,” says Kris Girard, bar manager at Torafuku restaurant, referencing the Lunar or Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. “I think cocktails are good for any occasion, but New Year’s – everyone likes to drink a little more and it brings out the comfort of family. Plus, everyone likes Champagne.”
Girard is just one of many local bartenders creating cocktails for the New Year, which is celebrated by millions of people worldwide. Festivities begin on the 28th – with parades, dragon dances, firecrackers, and red envelopes stuffed with lucky money – and wrap up two weeks later on what is known as the Lantern Festival.
That’s two weeks of sweeping out the old year and ushering in the new with plenty of drinking and dining. Throughout the city, you can also expect to see symbols of spring, prosperity, abundance and good fortune, including golden fish, plum blossoms, red lanterns and plump tangerines.
The latter adds a juicy citrus note to Micky Valens’s Chinese New Year cocktail at Hello Goodbye Bar in Yaletown. Called the Shanghai Spritz, it’s a variation on a classic Aperol spritz made with a Chinese five-spice honey syrup and cold-pressed mandarin orange juice from Commodity Juicery. “We make a lot of fun, colourful and sophisticated cocktails. It’s good to have a feature cocktail that’s part of what’s going on,” he says. “It’s a sparkling-wine cocktail, which is always cause for celebration. And it’s going to be a glowing orange, with some star anise pods poking through.”
Colour, of course, is also a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations: red for good fortune and joy, gold for good luck and prosperity, the green of lettuce leaves for wealth. In keeping with that, two of Girard’s cocktails are red, while the third, the Quince Royale, is golden. “It’s made with infused quince sake. It’s a little like a French 75,” he says. The subtle flavours of quince – a fruit that originated in Asia and symbolizes love and fertility – mingle with fragrant lime-leaf bitters (from Vancouver’s own Ms. Better’s bitters) and, of course, bubbles for a delicately springlike cocktail. “I find it has that aspect of what we do here in the restaurant, playing with those Asian flavours, but having these background notes as well.”
Girard notes that cocktails can often be a better choice than wine when it comes to pairing with Asian dishes, given their complex umami flavours and interplay of sweet, salty, spicy and sour notes. “We’re able to use a lot of lighter flavours because they let the flavours of the food stand out,” he says. “Asian food has a lot of play, like a well-balanced cocktail, which should be tart, but not too tart; sweet, but not too sweet.”
Just add bubbles, and you have a delicious way to welcome a brand new year.
—by Joanne Sasvari