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How to Make Your Own Limoncello

How to Make Your Own Limoncello

Save your money and make this fabulous liqueur at home

In the fall of 2005, I spent an incredible 10 days in Rome visiting my sister, who was studying abroad at the time. While I, at just the ripe age of 16, was most certainly an underage drinker in our country, in Italy I was just another legal drinker in a country full of fantastic things to indulge in. And so the story begins of how I discovered limoncello. Ever since those days in Italy, I have been obsessed with this sweet and tangy liqueur.

After returning from my trip, I was afraid that I would not be able to find limoncello stateside. Luckily for me, it is sold in many liquor stores. While I do enjoy the taste of these bottles for the most part, I find that many just are not the same as the glorious, sunshine liqueur I had overseas. In attempts to recapture those delicious memories, I decided to make my own at home.

Thankfully, making at-home limoncello is incredibly simple. With a few basic ingredients and some patience, you can have quite a large batch of limoncello to both impress party guests and enjoy for your personal drinking pleasure. I am a big fan of making things from scratch if I find that the store-bought version just isn’t up to par. Limoncello is no exception.

Below is my recipe for limoncello for making at home. You will find that there are several fairly similar recipes on the Web, but the differences tend to be in the length of time the lemon peels steep. After experimenting with a few different batches, I found that the bottle which steeped for one week came out the best. I also sampled from a few different recipes, but found that Giada De Laurentiis’s recipe was the best of the bunch.

A week seems like a long time to wait, but the (lemon) juice is worth the squeeze. Cheers, and enjoy your at-home concoction!

Click here for the recipe for Limoncello.

— Sara Kay, The Spir.it


How To Make Limoncello At Home

Learn how to make limoncello at home and you’ll never buy it in the stores again. Easy and tasty liqueur for all your refreshing cocktails. Have you ever tried a Limoncello Recipe? This recipe is absolutely delicious and a perfect way to satisfy a craving for a cool refreshing drink.


The Basic Limoncello Recipe Method

All homemade limoncello recipes follow the same method. Vodka is infused with flavor using the peelings from lemons. Then you add a simple syrup of sugar and water as a sweetener. It’s easy to do and only requires a little patience.

One of the first things I discovered when doing my homemade limoncello recipe research was that there’s some debate on the strength of vodka to use. Some folks highly recommend using a pure grain alcohol like Everclear that’s 120 proof saying that this strong of an alcohol is necessary because the addition of the simple syrup will water it down. Other folks, however, found Everclear to be too strong and said that just regular 80 proof vodka would work just fine.

So I decided to go halfway between the two and buy 100 proof vodka. You might have to do some extra looking around on the store shelf to find it, but the Smirnoff brand does make a 100 proof version.

Another thing I soon realized was that most limoncello recipes that I was finding made very large batches. They started with a whole bottle of vodka, and then still added several cups of simple syrup. The final result is the equivalent of about 3 or 4 store bought bottles. That’s great I suppose if you want to make a large batch for gift giving, but for a limoncello newbie like me, that was too much. I just wanted to make the equivalent of one 750 ml bottle at a time.


Limoncello is a traditional liqueur that takes you immediately to Italy at the first sip. It is made from the zest of lemons, mainly produced in Southern Italy, especially in the region around the Gulf of Naples, the Sorrentine Peninsula and the coast of Amalfi.

The recipe is truly simple, what varies is the time factor. Some say it takes a couple of days to prepare it, some a week, some in a couple of months or more. Everything depends on how long you decide to let the lemons peels steep in alcohol.

Limoni Costa d'Amalfi IGP from Aceto's lemons grove (ph. Sabrina Rossi)

We offer you a classic limoncello recipe that is prepared in about two months. If you’ve got the patience to wait, it will definitely be worth it. The important thing is to have untreated lemons, a fundamental ingredient for the success of your limoncello. Also, olive leaves – a trick for true connoisseurs.

Once the limoncello is ready, we suggest you transfer it into 16 oz bottles ready to be given as a gift to all the friends who will want to take some home as soon as they taste it. Or keep it ready-to-go in the freezer. Don’t forget that limoncello must be served chilled!

Here’s what you need to do:

Remove the yellow outer peel of 10 thoroughly washed untreated lemons with a potato peeler. Avoid the white interior.

Cut the lemon peels into thin strips and soak them in 25 oz of alcohol in a large glass container with a lid. Add some olive leaves. This is a trick that makes the limoncello truly unique. They are optional, but we advise you to try.

Let this mixture rest for about 20-30 days.

Once this time has elapsed, prepare a syrup by dissolving 2 lbs and 10 oz of sugar in 1.5 quarts of water over the stove. Let it cool and then add it to the alcohol and lemon peels.

Let it rest for another 30 days and then strain the limoncello before pouring it into bottles.


How to make limoncello

Have you always wanted a lemonade for grown-ups? Limoncello might be right for you, and it is easy to make for yourself with a few lemons and a bit of time.

Limoncello — or limoncino, as it is sometimes called— is an Italian liqueur made from lemon zest. It tastes like a boozy lemon gelato and is often drunk as a digestivo to cleanse the palate after a meal. Homemade limoncello also has a long legacy in Italy.

Rebecca Pirone, owner of My 3 Sisters Italian Cookies in Portland, said that she has a homemade limoncello recipe that has been in her family forever.

“I’m Italian and basically I make it every year,” Pirone said. “I make it for my business clients at the end of the year.”

Limoncello is beginning to make inroads in Maine, too. Bruce Olson, founder of Tree Spirits Winery and Distillery, began making limoncello about three years ago, inspired by a trip to Italy he took with his wife.

“It’s very simple to make,” Olson said. “You can make limoncello at home much easier than you can make just about anything else. The four ingredients are alcohol, lemon zest, sugar and water. That’s all there is to it.”

Limoncello usually has a slightly hazy appearance, which originates from the presence of small essential oil droplets suspended in the drink that are extracted from the lemon. The alcohol content can vary widely, especially among homemade variants, but averages between 25 percent and 30 percent alcohol by volume.

Crema di limoncello is a version of the classic liquor made with milk instead of simple syrup. It’s often less alcoholic, at around 17 percent alcohol by volume.

“My relatives in Italy, theirs is made with a cream,” Pirone said. “They have a cream that doesn’t spoil.”

How to make limoncello

To make limoncello, you first have to gather your materials.

Olson said to start with a gallon or half-gallon jar or jug, made from a material other than plastic so the high proof alcohol doesn’t degrade it. You will also need a strainer or cheesecloth as well to finish the lemoncello when it’s ready to drink.

Start by gathering the ingredients: sugar, vodka, water and lemons.

You want the highest-proof vodka possible. Because Olson owns a licensed distillery, he is able to use 190 proof organic corn liquor, though that is not possible for the average person given legal restrictions.

“The higher the alcohol content the more effective it is at extracting the flavor out of the lemon zest,” Olson said. “You can legally buy 150 or 151 proof [vodka like] Everclear. I think there’s a high-proof vodka that people use for making infusions and flavored things like that.”

You also want to select fine, white sugar that will dilute in the vodka without coloring it.

“We just use regular cane sugar to tell you the truth,” Olson said. “I think that’s a pretty pure product. We had experimented at one point using organic sugar, but unfortunately it has a little brown color to it so it didn’t have a nice looking limoncello.”

Combine the vodka and sugar in your container until the sugar has dissolved. Pirone said that she will use four cups of sugar for a half gallon of vodka in a gallon glass jug. The extra room allows for space to shake the mixture until it is dissolved.

“You want to shake it so you don’t see any sugar anymore,” Pirone said. “It only takes 10 minutes. I’ll shake it a little bit and I’ll let it sit. The sugar will fall to the bottom of the jar. It dilutes really fast.”

For a less aerobic method, Olson suggested letting the alcohol and sugar sit for a day in order to dissolve, with some occasional stirring.

“It’s just what we do,” Olson said. “The sugar has no problem dissolving.”

Another option is to make the sugar into a simple syrup with water before adding it to the vodka. If you don’t take that route, though, you can add equal parts water into the solution after the sugar has dissolved.

Once the solution is prepared, wash the lemons to prepare them for zesting.

“Most fruit is actually waxed now,” Olson said. “That wax shows up your limoncello like a bathtub ring. You have to be careful about removing the wax by scrubbing the lemons with hot water.”

Then, zest the lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith just below the yellow surface which will impart bitterness to the limoncello. You can zest the lemon with a grater, but Pirone said that she will usually use about two quarts of lemon rind — about eight cups — for her gallon-sized jar, so it’s faster to remove the zest in larger pieces.

“I just take an apple or potato peeler and peel the rind off,” Pirone said. “I would not bear down hard when you’re peeling the lemon. You don’t want to bear down hard to get all of that white. A little bit makes it tart, but you don’t want all of that.”

Add the lemon zest (or chopped fruit) to the alcohol and sugar solution and let it sit capped off in a cool, dark place. Olson said that he will let his limoncello set for a month and a half, but Pirone said that she lets her set for three to four months.

“I think the longer it sits the better the results are going to be,” Olson said. “You’ll extract more flavor out of your lemon zest, especially if you’re using a lower-proof alcohol. 45 days is probably a minimum.”

You want to agitate the solution every few weeks, too.

“It’ll settle, [so] you want to give it a good shake so all of the juices are flowing through it and fermenting good,” Pirone said. “You can leave it, you can actually leave it in longer than six months. I know people who have left it there for a year. The vodka starts to mellow out a little more. It’s totally your preference how you like to drink it.”

If you aren’t into lemons, you can use whatever fruit is in season to make one of limoncello’s many variations: arancello flavored with oranges, agrumello flavored with mixed citrus, meloncello flavored with cantaloupe and fragoncello flavored with strawberry.

Pirone said that she makes her own variations based on whatever is in season, like sour cherry, peaches and nectarines. She uses two quarts of diced fruit instead of the zest, but said that the finished product is essentially the same.

Storing and enjoying limoncello

After all that patient waiting and regular agitating, the final step is to simply enjoy your delicious limoncello.

Once the limoncello is done, Olson said that it will basically last forever.

“There’s enough alcohol in it and it’s acidic enough that there’s not a medium for growth of any sort,” Olson said. “It’ll last until you’re done drinking it.”

Olson and Pirone both said to keep limoncello in the freezer. It is best served cold after a delicious meal, and it doesn’t freeze solid because of the alcohol content.

Though limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an after-dinner palate cleanser, it can also be used to make various cocktails, pastries or ice cream.

“People have gotten more creative,” Olson said. “There’s a ton of cocktail recipes online. It’s very tasty. You just have to be careful not to drink too much of it.”


Homemade Limoncello

You’ll Need:
10 Lemons
1 liter **Everclear (or High-Quality Vodka)
1 1/2 c. Sugar
4 cups of water

Zest all of the lemons, but avoid using any of the pith (the white part closest to the lemon) as this will make your limoncello bitter. Put the zest in a large mason jar and add the Everclear. Cover (loosely) and allow it to rest for 1 week to fully infuse the flavors of the lemon zest.

After 1 week has passed, continue:

In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water and bring to a rolling boil. Do NOT Stir, but continue to boil for exactly 15 minutes over medium heat.
Remove from heat and cool until it reaches room temperature. Combine the cooled syrup with the infused lemon Everclear, mixing well.

Strain thoroughly through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag , transfer to glass bottles and seal. Allow the Limoncello to age for 14 days before consuming.

**Everclear is a brand name of a clear spirit that is bottled at 151 and 190 proof. It’s considerably stronger than vodka, but if you don’t have access to it (like many overseas) or if it’s illegal in your state, you can use high-quality vodka instead.


Photo Credit: Alejos


Homemade Limoncello

I've made my own homemade limoncello and arancello for years, trying several recipes and tweaking here and there. But the following is my Go-To recipe which has yielded the best results to date.

(Keep in mind that the end results may vary to some degree depending on: the kind of sugar you use in the simple syrup, the kind of vodka or grain alcohol used, and the freshness of the lemons.)


Which ingredients do I need to make homemade Limoncello?

All you need for making great Italian limoncello at home are three ingredients:

As you can tell, this is a pretty easy recipe and it also happens to be vegan! Occasionally you might find recipes that use different citrus fruit like grapefruit, orange, pomelo, or limes but then you can’t call it limoncello as it comes from the Italian word for lemon “limone”. I actually have a big old jar of lime-cello steeping in my basement right now and cannot wait to try that version!

Limoncello is generally clear but you might get a little cloudiness as you mix your lemon infused alcohol with the sugar syrup.


The beauties of homemade limoncello are twofold: It’s fairly easy to make, and it’s not as sweet as many commercial versions. In fact, when Planter’s House proprietor Ted Kilgore used to tend bar at Monarch, the limoncello mojito was consistently the former Maplewood restaurant’s most popular cocktail. Here’s how you, too, can make the liqueur at home:

1. Add the zest of 12 lemons, 10 oranges, or eight grapefruit to 1 liter of Everclear. (For best results, scrub the fruit gently with warm water and a mild brush next, use a Microplane-style grater to obtain the zest, or outer skin, which contains the essential oils avoid the white pith beneath, which is bitter.)

2. Allow the zest to steep in the liquor for a week, over which time the spirit will slowly absorb the aroma, color, and flavor of the lemons.

3. Create a simple syrup by adding 1 pound of sugar to 2 quarts of boiling water. Cool the syrup, then combine it with the infused spirit.

4. Once blended, your limoncello is ready to be bottled. Other recipes call for vodka and extend the maceration period to a month or two, but the higher-proof spirit absorbs the essential oils faster, meaning that the limoncello is ready to drink in weeks rather than months.

5. At a higher proof, limoncello does not need to be refrigerated, but it’s typically kept in the fridge or freezer so that it can be served chilled.

Prefer to purchase limoncello instead? Consider Luxardo ($23.99 at The Wine Merchant) or Pallini ($22.99 at The Wine and Cheese Place).


How to Drink Limoncello

Limoncello is usually sipped after dinner as a digestif in a very small glass or tall shot glass. It’s served in 1-2 ounce portions and is best served very cold. It also goes really well in a limoncello martini.

Finally, when life gives you lemons, make limoncello…

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