Food bartender Austin Foster (spiced up drinks)

Austin Foster strains a negroni cocktail at the basement bar in his McCook Lake, South Dakota home. 

Tim Hynds, The Weekender

Nothing puts you in the holiday spirits better than... well... spirits. More specifically, a glug or two of seasonal drinks like egg nog, apple cider and hot cocoa spiked with a few ounces of your favorite libation.

Boozy beverages warm the soul during those holiday gatherings with friends of family members. But unless you know what you're doing, you may end up souring your taste buds or ruin a perfectly good batch of nog. That's why we spoke to an expert of spirits: The Diving Elk's Austin Foster.

I met the mixology master at his home one evening last week. We sat atop the barstools of his in-home bar lounge equipped with a large collection of liquor. Shelves were packed full of whiskey, rum and brandy, among other varieties. Foster readied two glasses. Tonight, we would be having brandy.

"This is a Germain-Robin," he said. "It's a brandy from California, but it is some of the most delightful stuff on the planet."

Before tasting, he first lifted the glass to his nostrils, observing the initial alcohol aroma the brandy gives off. He smelled it again and again, cutting the harshness of the alcohol to reveal its true qualities. Now we drink, letting the liquid linger on the palate. A note of apple, maybe a bit of cinnamon and some raisin. 

"It is that time of the season to drink some brandy," said Foster.

OVER-HARD EGG NOG

Though Foster admits he's not the biggest fan of egg nog (or dairy drinks), he has had the opportunity to spike the beverage traditionally made from whipped egg yolks and egg whites, milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Egg nog might not be the most popular of drinks during the holidays, but perhaps the boozy touch could change people's minds. As for what spirit to use, Foster highly recommends brandy and rum. 

"When it comes to egg nogs and things of that nature, I tend to favor brandy," he said. "Rum is also beautiful with egg nog. You can use bourbon. When you drink American whiskeys you're going to get a warmer alcohol note. And you're going to get a more aggressive character from it. 

"I think brandy is easier on the palate. It has a rounder flavor profile for what a cinnamon-y egg nog is going to want."

NOT YOUR GRANDMA'S CIDER

Apple cider has already been given an alcohol equivalent thanks to beers like Redd's Apple Ale, Angry Orchard Hard Cider and Woodchuck Hard Cider. Sweeter palates can find solace with these bottles of booze. 

But nothing beats a cup of steaming hot apple cider. Whether it's homemade or it came from a carton mixture, it's all good around the holidays. What is simply unfiltered and unsweetened apple juice can be warmed and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and orange peels.

So what would pair well with a glass of apple cider? Foster suggests rye whiskey or scotch. 

"Scotch has a good apple note to it," he said. "A lot of them have a stone fruit character to them. I would teeter into the American whiskeys. From a rye whiskey, you get a little more spice. So you get that spice character that will compliment some of that apple and cinnamon profile."

HOT HOT CHOCOLATE

Ah, the classic. Nothing tastes better by the fireplace than a cup of delicious hot cocoa. Whether you're making it with powder or real melted chocolate, the drink serves as a soothing end note to the holiday season. But let's make it even better with a drop of spirits.

So what are the rules to spiking hot chocolate? According to Foster, there are no rules.

"You can do whatever the hell you want with it," he said. "I'm a big fan of rum. Bourbon works well -- a softer bourbon, maybe a wheated bourbon.

"Maybe not a lot of people are spirit drinkers. Hot chocolate is beautiful because it's this sweet, chocolate-y thing, so you can bring all your liqueurs to the party. Your Peppermint Schnapps, your Allspice Dram, your Chartreuse for folks who ware adventurous. Your Bailey's and your Frangelicos go great with hot chocolate.

"At the end of the day, this stuff is supposed to be fun."

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