Alcohol Vocab

I want to add more Chinese study material to Sinosplice, and the latest is a vocabulary list. Of Western alcohol. You won’t find any form of baijiu on the list, but if you ever wanted to know how to say “Guinness” or “Jim Beam” or “Sex on the Beach” in Chinese, this is for you.

It’s noteworthy that many of these names do not have a standard name (especially mixed drinks), so many variations are possible, but the names in my list have all been verified through online sources and/or in actual Chinese bars.

Some of the ones I find interesting:

  1. Sex on the Beach. The literal Chinese is “sexy beach.” I guess a faithful translation would be too racy for printing on a menu in a Chinese bar?
  2. Absolut. In Chinese, it’s just “Swedish vodka.” Boooooring. The name in English is kinda cool.
  3. Cocktail. It’s literally “chicken tail alcohol.” Of all words to translate absolutely literally (which the Chinese don’t really do so often), why this one??
  4. Draught beer. It seems that in the south it’s more often called sheng pi (生啤), whereas the north prefers to call it zha pi (扎啤). Sheng pi means “raw beer.” (It also happens to be exactly the same thing the Japanese call it: 生ビール.) I really like that. “I’ll have a beer. Make it RAW.” Badass.
  5. Smirnoff. In Chinese it means “imperial crown.” Since the Chinese name sounds nothing like the actual name, I’m guessing that’s a translation of the Russian. Cool. Learning Russian through Chinese through booze. How scholarly. [Update: That guess was wrong. See comment #14.]

Sinosplice vocabulary: Alcohol

Special thanks to Brad F and Brendan, who helped me a bit with my research.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Sounds like a fun topic to research. What’s Chinese for “hang over”?

  2. Isn’t Absolut a Swedish (Ruidian) instead of a Swiss (Ruishi) brand?

    BTW: don’t know what you wrote in Chinese: the public PC I’m at doesn’t display characters 🙁

  3. Tuur,

    Yes. Thanks for catching that slip.

  4. What a badass resource. Thanks John, Brad and Greg.

  5. I believe Smirnoff is actually the name of a family that distilled Vodka for the Tsars and who were forced to flee to England after the revolution. Something like that. So the Chinese name may not be so literal a translation, but it does make some sense. I may be wrong, and I forgot almost all the Russian I ever learned, so I can’t tell you the meaning of the name Smirnoff.

  6. I have the hang over problem a lot. In the dictionary it is “su zui” but most don’t get that so it is best to simply do “tou teng si ci le. zuo tian he duo le.”

  7. I think the zhapi-versus-shengpi thing is just a matter of individual preference, rather than a North/South thing. I’ve seen shengpi on menus here, and on Yanjing Draft bottles.

  8. My impression was zha pi came out of a tap the way it’s supposed to if it’s draft, whereas sheng pi came out of a bottle, and ‘draft’ is just the English name.

    But for really dumb English names, go out to Taiyuan and try the Yingze Cleaning Flavour Beer. Never figured out the Chinese name, ‘cos out there if you say ‘beer’ it’ll be Yingze (unless you specify which beer, in which case you’d be mad to say ‘Yingze’), and yes, the Cleaning Flavour does taste a little soapy. I was told it was supposed to mean ‘light beer’, but from a Kiwi perspective, most Chinese beers are light (as in low alcohol content- I’ve heard light means something different in America).

    Sorry to waste space with irrelevant ranting.

  9. Back when I lived in henan the local beer was “hangkong” 航空 beer, “aviation” beer. I always had this image in my mind of a pilot up in the sky, putting his seat back and saying

    “oh yeah, it’s aviation time” and pulling out a big 620 ml of hangkong.

    I actually liked the beer alot. The locals henanites considered beer to be a mear beverage like coke, they drank baijiu to get drunk. So the beer actually had some kick to it. This swill in the south is way too weak.

  10. One possible reason as to why “cocktail” is translated literally in Chinese may be because the drink is usually quite colorful, kinda like a cock’s tail? —just my personal take…

  11. Greg Pasden Says: May 14, 2004 at 2:20 am

    I enjoyed this posting.
    Take care,

  12. They call Heineken 喜力? It’s hai-ni-gen (don’t know the characters) out here.

    Another neat trick: Smirnoff Ice and Taiwan beer (or whatever light Chinese beer on hand) 50/50 is a nice alternative to just beer.

    At my pad, it’s been nothing but Suntory whiskey and Hey Song Strawberry Sasprilla for the past month.

  13. Gin as ‘Golden Alcohol’. Heh…

  14. Vladimir Says: June 9, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    About Smirnoff, or “Imperial crown” in Chinese. Your guess is wrong, it’s not a translation from Russian. In Russian it’s just a family name of the founder of this company, his full name in Russian was Piotr Smirnov. Why Chinese call it “Imperial crown”? Well, have you ever seen how Chinese translate the names of the western classics in Chinese? That’s why.

  15. Isn’t the pinyin for rum & coke missing a syllable? I want to be sure I as it right…

  16. Bubba,

    Good eye. It probably won’t make a difference in comprehension, but if every character of the Chinese name on the chart is covered, it should be: lǎngmǔjiǔ jiā kělè.

  17. Smirnoff is called ‘imperial crown’ because of its logo. Chinese languages brands that are based on their label or what the packaging looked like when they were first imported into China in the early years without a trademark already in place.

    Consumers had to call the product something, and thus used a descriptive phrase as there was no Chinese brand that they could read. Thus Skittles became ‘cai hong tang’ (rainbow candy) which is unfortunately almost generically descriptive and thus a poor trademark. The label of Smirnoff has a crown on it (above the twin eagles which used to be the imperial/tsarist symbol) and they don’t want to say ‘russian crown’ as the formal name of a country cannot be registered as a trademark.

  18. My girlfriend told me just this week that 鸡尾酒 comes from “cock tail”; 鸡 means cock and 尾 means tail.

    Never thought of it that way, but

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