Limoncello | Lemon Liqueur

Limoncello is made in homes all over Southern Italy, where lemon trees grow in abundance. Less familiar outside Southern Italy is rosolio di limonedigestive, or after-dinner drink, both rosolio and limoncello are served cold; once you’ve opened a bottle, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. The alcohol will prevent it from freezing solid. Here in California, I use Meyer lemons from my garden, but you can use any variety. Look for lemons that haven’t been sprayed or waxed, the fresher the better.–Rosetta Costantino and Jennie Schacht

LC Lousy With Limoncello Note

As one of our recipe testers noted, until now, we’d always dispensed our limoncello in stingy pours so as not to demolish our precious stash too quickly. But knowing we can make our own changes that. Given that it’s made with 151-proof hooch, we’re not so certain that’s a good thing. Gulp.

Limoncello Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 22 D
  • 12 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds lemons (about 8), preferably organic
  • 1 750-ml bottle 151-proof neutral grain spirits, such as Everclear or vodka
  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 4 cups cold water

Directions

  • 1. Remove the zest from the lemons in wide strips with a vegetable peeler, taking only the yellow part and carefully avoiding even the slightest bit of underlying white pith, which would turn the limoncello bitter. Reserve the zested lemons for another use.
  • 2. Pour the alcohol into a clean quart (1-liter) jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as a European-style canning jar with a rubber gasket and clamp lid. Add the lemon zest, close the jar, and let it steep in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or cellar, for 1 week.
  • 3. After the alcohol has steeped for 1 week, stir the sugar and water together in a large saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves completely. The mixture should be clear. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. (Do not be tempted to rush into the next step; if the sugar syrup is not completely cool, your limoncello will be cloudy.)
  • 4. Remove the lemon zest from the alcohol and discard. Pour the infused alcohol into the sugar syrup and stir to combine. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, then decant the limoncello into clean bottles and seal with a cork or lid of some sort.
  • 5. Let the limoncello mature for 15 days in a cool, dark place, then refrigerate. Serve chilled.

Rosolio di Limone Variation

  • For a sweeter, less puckier (oh, you know what we mean) version of limoncello called rosolio di limone, follow the instructions above, but instead use 6 cups water and 4 cups (800 g) sugar in place of the stated 4 cups water and 2 cups sugar. Let the liqueur sit for the same amount of time.
Thirsty for more? Sip on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Linda B.

Jan 07, 2014

Who knew it was so easy to make your own liqueur? I made the limoncello recipe, and I found this to be a little less bitter than some of the limoncello I've bought. The process is very simple. It's just the waiting that's hard. I like limoncello by itself as an after-dinner drink, and I also spike lemonade with it. I want to try this recipe with other citrus when they're in season.

Testers Choice
Sarah Heend

Jan 07, 2014

I've never made an infused vodka before, and I found the process to make the rosolio di limone fascinating. I didn’t have a chance to get to the liquor store to pick up Everclear, so I used vodka. I admit I used the cheap vodka I had on hand, and we love the result. The rosolio, after a full three weeks of aging is sweet, tart, and slightly bitter (in a good way) lemon goodness. I might just love the aroma more than the flavor, but my husband is a true fan. I'm already thinking up recipes we can use it in.

Testers Choice
Suzanne Fortier

Jan 07, 2014

I made the limoncello variation of this recipe. I used 2 pounds organic lemons from Trader Joe's, which were quite small. (I've found bigger lemons are harder to peel.) I definitely recommend using organic lemons, since you're using the zest. The instructions are very well-written, and my limoncello came out perfectly clear and lemony yellow. The proportions are a little different than the classic Mario Batali recipe, and the finished product has a little less "pow" than I'm used to, but it's a refreshing after-dinner drink. And, if you bottle it nicely, you can give it as gifts for the holidays, which is exactly what I plan to do. I've made limoncello before and have learned a few tips the hard way. A word to the wise:

1. Make sure you get every bit of pith off the zest. I scrape it off with a paring knife. (I know people who use a microplane grater to get just the zest. The pith makes the limoncello come out a shocking yellow-green AND taste like cough medicine.

2. If you've been so foolish as to use good-quality vodka AND didn't get all the pith off, you're literally throwing money down the drain. It will be undrinkable, and you'll be deeply discouraged.

3. In any event, high-quality vodka is really not necessary. I used Fleischmann's, which is half the price of Absolut.

Testers Choice
Gail Rueckl

Jan 07, 2014

I'm so glad I tried making this rosolio di limone recipe! It was so easy, and the results are wonderful. Hands-on time was very quick, and there was very little mess. It was fun checking the alcohol and the lemon zest after a week of steeping and finding how beautiful the aroma was from the lemon zest. I tried a tablespoon of the liqueur before putting it into sterilized bottles to mature for a couple weeks. Let me tell you, I can't wait to have a glass during a relaxing moment! It's so beautifully smooth, perfectly sweet, and has a wonderfully fresh lemon flavor. I used a high-end vodka that I happened to have on hand. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

Testers Choice
Adriana Pecunia

Jan 07, 2014

After a summer filled with my neighbor's homemade limoncello, I jumped at the chance to make my own. My husband, who was initially distrustful of the concoction, soon became enamored with it. Not only is it delicious, but it has the unique ability to make my husband more enjoyable in social settings. It's a wonderful after-dinner drink best served with with friends, cigars, and a bonfire. I'd never had Everclear before this. I've always considered it in the same category as boxed wine or malt beverages (in other words, I made my husband go to the store and buy it for me). The truth is, the Everclear makes for a very clean-tasting and refreshing drink. Making the limoncello was quite simple. I poured the Everclear into a large glass jar and the lemon strips actually look rather nice floating around. It's impressive how much flavor and color comes from the zest. (Per my friend's advice, I juiced the lemons at the same time and saved the juice for other uses.) After one week, I made the simple syrup, cooled it, combined everything, and strained the mixture into sterilized bottles. Considering the staggering amount of alcohol in the Everclear, sterilizing the bottles was probably unnecessary, but one can't be too careful. We enjoy the limoncello straight out of the freezer. I've also used it as a glaze for a lemon pound cake and have spiked sparkling water with it. Now that I have my own private reserve, we don't have to ration it like we have been. I'm definitely making more to give away for Christmas this year. I wonder if it's an appropriate teacher gift?

Testers Choice
Helen Doberstein

Jan 07, 2014

I must admit, I'm not a big fan of limoncello, but this liqueur isn't overly sweet, it's easy to make, and delicious. I could easily see using this at any dinner party or just an evening at home. I used organic lemons and, since I really don't like using grain alcohol, I opted for a bottle of Finlandia vodka. After making sure there was absolutely no white pith on the rinds, I allowed the lemon-infused vodka to sit for a little over a week as required, and then sit around for an additional 15 days with the sugar syrup added. Then I put a small bottle of it into the fridge to get cold enough to sample. Delightful. This is going to make some awesome gifts for the holidays.

Comments
Comments
  1. I’ve made limoncello for holiday gifts for the past several years. Maybe I’m happy I couldn’t find Everclear (I’m not sure it’s available for sale in all States) since I’ve been so happy with my results and I’ve heard it can be a bit harsh? Still, what I’ve found works is finding 100 proof vodka; I think I’ve used Smirnoff but also just a simple store brand. Someone else mentioned it and it’s true…don’t waste good premium vodka on this; it isn’t necessary…but finding one with a higher proof does help to extract more flavor so that’s worthy of the effort.

    I always have some in the freezer; it’s become a staple in this house used for both cocktails and cooking!

    • David Leite says:

      Barb, I’ve made limoncello as well as some Portuguese liquors and I’ve never used anything but 100% proof vodka. And I’ve had great results, too. Easy-peasy.

  2. Nick Mello says:

    As an amateur distiller and veteran limoncello maker, I felt I had to add my two cents. Vodka does have a flavor profile whereas grain alcohol is neutral in profile which lends itself to a much purer lemony finish without competition. Vodka adds a flavor that, we’ll, tastes of vodka. If you can’t find grain alcohol, & must use vodka, run it through a clean Britta filter pitcher w/a fresh unused cartridge 5-10 times prior to using it in the recipe. The carbon filter does a great job of muting vodka’s flavor profile. Ever clear/grain alcohol reigns supreme here in cost, efforts, & intended nerve tonic effects. This liqueur is a must for anyone’s go to cabinet.

    • David Leite says:

      Nick, genius. Just genius. When I was developing my recipe for Licor de Leite for my cookbook, I tried in vain to come up with a way to ride vodka of its, well, vodka-ness. I love this idea. Pure genius.

      While EverClear is supreme for this, I do need to remind readers it’s illegal in fourteen states: California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Washington, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Minnesota

  3. Chris Riggle says:

    I bought some 4 citrus fruit ‘limoncello’ from a small restaurant on the island of Ischia off Naples and love it! So you can punch up the ordinary limoncello during the winter months.
    I will try doing this with the recipe.

  4. victoria2nyc says:

    Limoncello GlassesI think you have an Amazon store or at least link things to Amazon. These little glasses for limoncello are so sweet, and I think people who have success with your limoncello recipe might be interested to see them.

    I haven’t made my own limoncello before, but I will try your recipe, and if it works out, I think a bottle of it with these little glasses would be lovely hostess or Christmas gifts.

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