I've been on a quest for a while now to make my own root beer. I've tried all sorts of recipes using all sorts of ingredients, and I now have this huge collection of spices and roots and leaves... but no root beer to show for it. It always comes out bitter and kind of gross.
I tried to get down to basics. From what I've read, sassafrass is the key ingredient, so I thought I'd make a tea out of just that and see how that goes. (Yes, I know there are claims that sassafrass has a cancer causing agent, and that it's not used anymore, and people use wintergreen or sarsaparilla instead. But, health concerns aside, everything I've read seems to have a consensus that sassafrass is the original flavour for root beer.)
When I open my bag of sassafrass root bark, it has a smell lightly evocative of root beer, but also kind of earthy (I'm bad at describing smells). Most recipes I've seen call for steeping the sassafrass for about 20 to 25 minutes, with a ratio of about one tablespoon of sassafrass for each cup of water.
Starting with that basis, I've tried various combinations of adjusting times and ratios, and also two different brands of sassafrass, but the fundamental problem remains. It's always bitter. Too bitter to cover up with any amount sweetener or other ingredients. Sweetener and other ingredients (cinnamon, vanilla, star anise, allspice...) don't cover bitterness, they just exist alongside it.
When I look on Amazon at reviews by people who have bought the same sassafrass root bark that I did, there are all these statements saying "we made root beer and it was great!" or "brought back childhood memories of home made root beer!" and that sort of thing, accompanied by five stars. But all I have is a brown liquid that is on one level a pale imitation of root beer, and on another level has a bitterness that won't go away.
Where am I going wrong?