Homemade limoncello is so easy to make! All you need is lemons, sugar, and a strong clear spirit like grain alcohol or vodka. Plus, a little bit of patience. Waiting is the hardest part.
The best limoncello is sweet and smooth with a lemony flavor. You can drink it straight or with club soda. You can also use it to mix into cocktails.
In Italy, limoncello is often served as an apertivo, before the meal. The intention is to open the stomach before a meal.
You'll want it cold, really cold. This lemony cocktail is best right out of the fridge or even better, straight out of the freezer. Traditionally, it's served chilled in a small glass or apertivo glass.
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Everything you need to know about how to make homemade limoncello.
Limoncello is an infused spirit made by steeping lemon peels in grain alcohol for an extended period of time. The infusion is then sweetened with simple syrup. You can adjust the sweetness to your liking.
What You'll Need
Any lemons will work for this recipe. It's best to use organic lemons because you don't want the waxy coating on them.
Traditionally, lemons from the Amalfi coast are used to make Limoncello. My favorite lemons are Meyer lemons which grow all over California. In fact, I have a tree in my yard.
Traditionally, limoncello is made with cask-strength grappa distilled from grape skins. However, in the states grappa is only sold in 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof).
This limoncello recipe is made with Everclear. Alternatively, use the highest proof vodka you can buy.
Everclear is 190 proof which means it is 95% alcohol. It's also sold in 120 proof which is 60% alcohol. If you're using vodka, use 90 or 100 proof vodka, which is 45 to 50% alcohol respectively.
Originally, I made this recipe with grappa. While grappa does work, its lower alcohol content is less effective at extracting the lemon essence from the lemon peels.
Keep in mind that the limoncello alcohol content will vary depending on which alcohol you choose to use. The higher the proof of the initial spirit, the higher the final proof you're limoncello will be. (see notes on how to dilute the limoncello)
Simple syrup is a mixture of water and caster sugar. A true simple syrup is made by mixing equal parts of water and sugar together in a saucepan and then heating until the sugar is dissolved.
For this recipe, we are going to make a leaner simple syrup by using less sugar. 3 cups of water + 1 cup of sugar.
- Step 1 - Peel the lemons using an angled peeler or Y-peeler. Make sure to remove all of the white pith.
- Step 2 - Steep lemon peels in alcohol. Add the alcohol and the lemon peels to a glass jar and pour over
- Step 3 - Strain the lemon peels.
- Step 4 - Add the simple syrup.
How to Dilute Homemade Limoncello
One of the biggest challenges of making this recipe in California was that I am unable to find 190 proof Grain Alcohol. I am stuck using a lower alcohol Everclear unless I source.
So source it I did. For this recipe, I used 190 proof Everclear, which is 95% alcohol. This alcohol is great for extracting flavor, not delicious for drinking. But, we change that with the addition of sugar syrup at the end.
Because I'm nerdy, I used a dilution equation to figure out how much of my original lemon extract would be needed and how much sugar syrup I would need to bring my alcohol content to 40% at the finished product stage.
I bottled my limoncello in 375ml bottles and used:
- 167 ml of limoncello extract
- 208 ml of light simple syrup
FAQs and Expert Tips
The best alcohol to use is grain alcohol or Everclear 190. However, if you can't find the alcohol find the highest proof Everclear available.
You can also use Vodka or Grappa. Just keep in mind that end result will be much lower in alcohol.
Limoncello can be made with any type of lemons.
I prefer using Meyer lemons because I really like the flavor of Meyer lemons.
Traditionally, limoncello is made from the zest of Femminello St. Teresa lemons, also known as Sorrento or Sfusato lemons
The amount of sugar in the final limoncello will depend on how much simple syrup you end up using.
The nice thing about making limoncello from scratch is that you can adjut the amount of sweetness to your taste.
How long to infuse the lemon peels?
You will start to get a nice lemon flavor in the infusion in about 5 days. But, infusing for 3 weeks is optimal.
The longer you let the lemon peels infuse, the stronger the lemon flavor will be in the final product.
Store limoncello in the refrigerator or the freezer.
I prefer storing mine in the freezer so that it is super cold. The high alcohol content in limoncello keeps it from freezing through. It may be slightly slushy depending on which alcohol you used.
Limoncello will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 months or in the freezer for up to a year or longer.
Serve limoncello in either shot glasses or small fluted shot glass.
It should be served cold but not over ice.
What to do with all of the lemons that you'll have leftover.
You won't want to waste all of the delicious leftover lemons. My favorite option for using up the leftover lemon is making Lemon Curd.
You can juice the lemons and then put the juice in ice cube trays to use with your favorite lemon recipes.
You can use this recipe to make orangecello with orange peels and even limecello using lime peels.
Infused spirits make great cocktail mixers.
Limoncello Cocktail Recipes
There are a lot of drinks to make with limoncello. The only hard part is picking just one.
- Limoncello Martini
- Sparkling Limoncello Cocktail
- Limoncello Gin Collins
- Limoncello Cake - This one isn't a cocktail, but its still a delicious way to use limoncello.
Other Cocktail Recipes That You’ll Love
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Homemade Limoncello Recipe
- 7 lemons peel removed with a peeler
- 750 ml pure grain alcohol [190 proof | 95% alcohol by volume] alternatively vodka or grappa
- 4 cups water
- 3.5 cups sugar
Peel the lemons
- Wash the lemon skins with a vegetable brush. Peel the lemons, using a vegetable peeler.
- Add the peels and the alchol to a glass container.
- Let this mixture sit for 10 to 21 days.
Make the simple syrup
- Combine the water and the sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Strain the alcohol and lemon peels. Reserve the infused alcohol.
- Add the simple syrup to the lemon-infused alcohol. Adjust the sweetness if needed.
- Store the limoncello in the fridge or the freezer.
- Serve chilled!
Laura's Tips + Notes
- Vodka:100 proof, 50% alcohol by volume
- Vodka:90 proof, 45% alcohol by volume
- Grappa: typically 90 proof, 45% alcohol by volume