Limoncello is a beautiful Italian lemon liqueur with vibrant sweet flavor infused into it over a period of time. This liqueur is surprisingly easy to make at home and all you need is 4 ingredients and patience.
What is Limoncello?
If you haven’t discovered this sweet Italian dessert liqueur, it’s high time that you do! Some refer to this as liqueur “the nectar of Gods,” and you know what… they are totally right! Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur that’s made with the oil essence of lemon peels infused into vodka over several days, sometimes even weeks.
After it’s been infused, the vodka is then mixed with simple syrup to make this dessert liqueur. It’s meant as a sipping dessert treat after a long and hearty family dinner. It’s boozy, and yet is so flavorful and sweet that it sips so very easily. This is one of my all time favorite treats to indulge in after a large family meal, especially when it’s made just right.
Limoncello is a family tradition, and of course, all families have their special recipe for making it. The good news is that you can also have your own special recipe because it is completely customizable for sweetness and “booziness.” While I find that this recipe has just the right amounts of both sweetness and alcohol content, you can alter either of those elements to better suit your preferences.
Limoncello Ingredient Notes:
What Type of Lemon to Use:
Traditionally, Limoncello was made only with the Amalfi lemons that are grown in the southern region of Italy because it has the perfect conditions to grow beautiful lemons. As this sweet drink became more and more popular, people have been using lemons that are available to them.
One thing I highly recommend as far as lemons go is that you use organic! Since lemon zest is what you use to make it, it’s important to keep it organic. Try Meyer lemons too. The amazing flavor and aroma of a Meyer lemon is great in Limoncello, you may just need to use extra because of their smaller size.
What Type of Vodka to Use:
I recommend that you get 100 proof or even 120 proof (or Everclear). Higher proof vodka is perfect to infuse because it gets the most essence out of the lemon zest. If you’re worried about alcohol content, you can always add more water or simple syrup.
Note: You can find gluten free 100 proof vodka if you need to use gluten free, and keep in mind that Everclear is gluten free as well.
Disclosure: Also, please note that some levels of Everclear vodka are illegal in several states.
How Much Sugar and Water to Use:
This is where people’s personal preferences makes the most difference. Do you like it boozy? Do you like it more or less sweet? My own personal preference is somewhat boozy, and not too sweet. So, my ratio of water to sugar is 3 cups of water to 1.5-2 cups of sugar.
When I make Limoncello as a gift, I make it slightly sweeter, so I use 3 cups or water and 2 cups of sugar. When I make it for our personal use, I use 3 cups of water and only 1-1.5 cups of sugar. You can find our own personal preference up to 4 cups of water and up to 3 cups of sugar. Please note though, 3 cups of sugar will make a very sweet Limoncello.
How to Make Limoncello:
Peel and infuse the lemon:
Start off by peeling the fresh lemons. When choosing a peeler, I recommend using a Y vegetable peeler. Keep in mind that the goal here is to take off just the yellow zest and not the white pith.
Next, add the lemon peels and vodka into a glass container and close it tightly.
Let the lemon peels and vodka infuse in a cool, dark place at room temperature for approximately 4 weeks. Make sure to gently shake/swirl it around every few days.
Now, it’s time to strain the vodka! I like to do so by simply setting a mesh strainer fitted with a clean coffee filter over a 4-cup measuring cup.
Then, I simply strain the vodka through the strainer and discard of the lemon peels.
Mix with Simple Syrup:
Making the sugar mixture is quite simple. First, you’ll just need to bring water to a simmer. Once simmering, turn off the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Once the sugar water is cooled to room temperature, stir in the lemon infused vodka. (Do not add hot simple syrup into infused vodka.)
To bottle the limoncello, you’ll need to divide the limoncello amongst clean glass bottles and be sure to close them nice and tight.
You can store your homemade limoncello either in the refrigerator or freezer.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How to Store Homemade Limoncello?
Use resealable glass bottles to store Limoncello. You should keep it either in the refrigerator or in the freezer. If you plan to keep it in the freezer, make sure to use tempered glass bottles and containers and fill it only 3/4 full.
Depending on the vodka you use and how much simple syrup you add, Limoncello should not freeze. At the most, it will turn into a slushy. In the refrigerator, homemade Limoncello should be good for up to 3 months and in the freezer, for a year.
How to Serve Limoncello:
Traditionally, Limoncello is served at the end of the meal as a dessert and sipped slowly. You should serve it chilled either straight or over ice.
You can also use make it into cocktails like citrus martinis, mules, and spritzers. I’ve used it with soda water and prosecco to make spritzers and ginger beer to make mules, all were excellent!
More Dessert Cocktails:
Grasshopper Cocktail – this classic sweet cocktail is made with Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cocoa, vodka, and ice cream
Red Wine Hot Chocolate – a simple hot cocktail that combines red wine and homemade hot chocolate
Lemon Drop Martini – this classic cocktail has only four ingredients – good quality vodka, fresh lemon juice, orange liqueur, and sweetener
Strawberry Shortcake Martini – this sweet dessert drink is made with cake vodka, strawberry liqueur, strawberry kiwi juice, and whipped cream vodka
- Zester or fine citrus peeler
- 12-15 organic lemons or organic Meyer lemons
- 750 ml 100 proof vodka
- 3 cups water*
- 1.5-2 cups white granulated sugar*
- I recommend using a Y vegetable peeler or another peeler you have that is very find. Your goal is to take off just the yellow zest of the lemon and none of the white pith.
- Peel the outer yellow layer of the lemons and combine them all in a large glass container with an air-tight lid.
- Pour in all the vodka into the glass container with the lemon peels and close it tight.
- Give it a gentle swirl to stir and set it in a spot out of the way that is away from direct sunlight. Let it infuse in the cool, dark plate (room temperature is fine) for about 4 weeks. Swirl the bottle every few days.
- Set a mesh strainer fitted with a clean coffee filet over a 4-cup measuring cup (or another large enough container) and strain the alcohol. Discard lemon peels.
- Add water into a sauce pot and bring it to simmer. Turn off the heat and stir in sugar. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
- Let the sugar mixture cool to room temperature before combining with infused vodka!
- Combine sweet water and lemon infused vodka together and stir well.
- Divide the Limoncello among clean glass bottles and close them right.
- Keep Limoncello either in the refrigerator or in the freezer. (Make sure to use freezer-friendly bottles if plan to keep Limoncello in the freezer.)