Well, I had a hankering for a nice old-fashioned root beer. I've had Virgil's many times, so I was in the mood for something else. Not finding anything, I did the only reasonable thing: I made my own from scratch.
I saw this recipe and decided that it would be a good place to start:
I made a few modifications, and came up with this:
Pete's Ass-Kicking Root Beer
Warning: May Kick Your Ass
~1.25 oz sassafras root bark*
~1.25 oz sasaparilla root
~1/2 oz licorice root
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger
10 whole cloves
10 juniper cones (berries), lightly crushed
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp (pinch) crushed red pepper flakes
3 cups honey
~1/3 cup molasses (NOT blackstrap)
4 lbs turbinado sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
5 quarts water
Pour the 5 quarts of water into a stockpot capable of holding at least 10 quarts; a 12 quart pot is ideal. Note the level of the liquid; you'll need to remember where it is later. Heat the water to near boiling, and add the sugar, honey, and molasses, stirring to dissolve it. Just as the water starts to boil, add everything else, stirring to get it all mixed. Let the water come to boil, and then back it off to a strong simmer/light boil for about an hour, or until you are back down to the 5 quart level. The sugar and such add roughly an extra 2 quarts to the volume.
After boiling, strain the syrup into another pot, add the vanilla extract, and mix well. Bottle the syrup in quart-sized Mason jars, plastic jars, or any other suitable container.
The syrup should be mixed in roughly a 1:4 ratio. I just mix it with seltzer and skip the whole force carbing or natural carbing thing. It would probably taste great if it were naturally carbed; I might give that a go at some point.
*Yes, I used real sassafras root bark. No, it probably wasn't the best idea. It does taste fantastic though. When I make this again, I'll likely look for a safrole-free sassafras extract.