When life gives you lemons, why settle with lemonade when you can make limoncello instead? Making limoncello is surprisingly easy and just needs a few ingredients, which consist of a decent base alcohol, untreated lemons, and sugar.
In this guide, you will learn how to make authentic Italian limoncello at home with our easy homemade recipe:
- Homemade Limoncello Ingredients
- Clean The Lemons
- Peel The Lemons
- Mix With Alcohol & Mature
- Make Sugar Syrup
- Strain & Mix Ingredients
- Enjoy Your Homemade Limoncello!
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read out entire detailed guide.
Learn How To Make Limoncello
See The Best Limoncello To Buy Online
Homemade Limoncello Ingredients
As mentioned in the introduction above, making limoncello is very easy and only needs a few basic ingredients! To fill a single 75 ml bottle, you will need the following:
- 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) Sorrento or Untreated Lemons
- 500 ml (17 Fl Oz) 40% ABV Neutral Alcohol or Vodka
- 200g (7 Oz) Sugar
- 250 ml (8.5 Fl Oz) Distilled or Mineral Water
- 1 Litre (1 Quart) Mason Jar
Needless to say, if you want to make more, simply multiply the ingredients! We’ll offer a little bit more detail on each of the ingredients and the best ones to choose below.
What Lemons To Use To Make Limoncello
Traditionally, limoncello is made using Femminello St. Teresa lemons, which are commonly referred to as Sorrento (“Limone di Sorrento”) or Sfusato lemons. These large lemons are typically grown along the Amalfi Coast and are produced throughout the year.
However, they’re not always easy to source and sometimes you have to make do with what you can find. In the USA, California produces huge amounts of lemons but rarely Sorrento varieties.
Instead, opt for large lemons with a thick and aromatic skin that has a rich aroma. Furthermore, try to use only untreated lemons, which won’t be coated with wax or have been exposed to pesticides. As they’re more natural, they’ll result in a better limoncello!
What Alcohol To Use To Make Limoncello
You can choose between a variety of different alcohol to make your own limoncello. Traditionally, Italians will use 90% ABV grain alcohol, which is relatively easy to find in their country. Meanwhile, it can be particularly challenging abroad.
In France, 90% alcohol for making similar eau-de-vie fruit concoctions used to be quite common too. However, it was eventually removed from alcohol shelves and could only be purchased in small quantities from a local pharmacy.
Nevertheless, you’ll need to specify that you want drinkable alcohol for “preserving fruit” or they may give you inedible rubbing alcohol.
If you live in a country where the alcohol strength is limited, you can usually buy neutral 40% grain alcohol for fruit in the supermarket. Yet, if you can’t find this either, you’ll likely have to settle for a good quality vodka, which is fine too.
Yet, if you can acquire a 90% ABV grain alcohol, most connoisseurs greatly believe it is more effective than weaker alcohol in extracting the lemon peels’ oils.
Should you decide to use stronger alcohol, you will have to use proportionally more water to dilute it to the right strength. When making limoncello from 500 ml (17 Fl Oz) of 90% alcohol, you will need 750 ml (25 Fl Oz) of water to bring it down to 30% ABV.
Finally, avoid flavoured clear spirits like gin as they will taint the limoncello’s flavour. That being said, this may be your intention if you’re willing to try something new!
What To Use For Storing Your Limoncello
When making limoncello, you’ll need a container so the lemon peels can macerate with the alcohol. If you’re making enough to fill a regular 75 ml bottle, you’ll need a jar that’s just 1 litre (1 quart) in volume. However, remember that it’ll need to be larger if making more.
We like to use Le Parfait glass mason jars as they’re very well made with a rubber casket and metal fastener. However, you can use any number of options as long as it’s made of glass and has a large enough opening to add and remove the lemon peels.
Finally, you might also want a separate bottle for keeping your limoncello to serve it. In this case, any glass bottle will do as long as it has a decent cork or screw cap!
How Long Does It Take To Make Limoncello
Limoncello is quite quick and easy to make and will likely take no more than an hour of your time in total. However, you will need to allow the lemon peels to macerate with the alcohol in between some of the work.
As we’ll reiterate below, the process will take at least two weeks and ideally one month for the peels’ oils to infuse with the alcohol.
Some recipes occasionally suggest that only one week is necessary. However, we believe that this is only if you are using 90% ABV alcohol, which reacts more quickly with the zest.
Just remember to keep this in mind if making your limoncello ahead of a particular event!
1. Clean The Lemons
Before you begin, it’s always best practice to thoroughly clean the lemons before you use them. While the alcohol will probably be more efficient in disinfecting any dirty skins, it will help remove any impurities.
Simply use a vegetable or nail brush and scrub the lemons under the sink. However, avoid scrubbing too hard if you’re using untreated lemons as you may end up removing the oils on the surface.
You will likely notice a remarkable difference before and after brushing the lemons. Beforehand, they may have a few stains and marks, which come off easily when brushed.
If you could only find waxed lemons, you’ll need to scrub much more thoroughly as this will prevent the alcohol from properly macerating with the skins. You can pour boiling water over the lemons beforehand to make the wax easier to remove.
Finally, pad the lemons dry as you want to avoid adding water to the first mixture while it macerates.
2. Peel The Lemons
Although a somewhat laborious step in the process, it’s still quite easy to peel the lemons. Given that it’s the hardest part of making limoncello, we can’t exactly complain!
Gently peel the entire lemons, making sure that you remove only the peel without any of the pith. The pitch is the white matter under the skin, which is very bitter and doesn’t add anything particularly pleasant to limoncello.
As you remove the peels, you can simply place them directly into your mason jar or chosen container so they’re ready for the alcohol.
Finally, there’s no need to throw away the lemons and waste them. Since they no longer have their skins, they’ll quickly expire. Therefore, extract the juices to save for later or just make a large batch of refreshing lemonade for the whole family!
In fact, the process between making lemonade and limoncello is quite similar except you use the juice and water instead of the skins and alcohol.
Simply squeeze all the lemons while you heat some water in a pan. Once the water is around 60°C (140°F), add some sugar and stir. Leave it to cool and then mix it with the lemon juice. Add ice and top it up with water to taste and you have a classic homemade lemonade.
You can also add some chopped mint leaves for extra flavour. It turns out that when life gives you lemons, you can make limoncello and lemonade!
3. Mix With Alcohol & Mature
At this stage, you’re only adding the alcohol so your mason jar or container only needs to be a size that will accommodate both that and the peels. Once you’ve added it all, you can close the jar and give it a quick shake so that all the peels come into contact with the alcohol.
You will now want to leave your limoncello to macerate in a cool and dark place like a basement or cellar. Remember that the process will now take between two and four weeks for the peels’ oils to infuse with the alcohol.
You can close the jar completely while it macerates. However, traditionalists will argue that it’s better to just cover the jar with a cloth so that it can breathe during the ageing process.
We meet both approaches half-way by covering the jar for the first half of the ageing process and then fully closing it during the second half to avoid any evaporation.
Finally, we also suggest that you pay your limoncello a visit once a day to either shake or stir the contents so that the juices are always flowing.
4. Make Sugar Syrup
Once you’re satisfied that your limoncello has aged enough, it’s time for the final hurdle! The next steps consist of separating the peels from the alcohol and making a sugar syrup.
Earlier, we described how to make lemonade with the lemon juice and the process is quite similar. Simply heat up 250 ml (8.5 Fl Oz) of distilled or mineral water in a saucepan until it reaches about 60°C (140°F).
You can use a different quantity of water depending on your tastes. 250 ml will dilute the limoncello to 35% ABV and you can add up to 500 ml or 1 pint to bring it down to 30% ABV. We wouldn’t recommend more water than this as it might be a bit weak whereas any less will have a bit of a kick.
Once the water is hot enough, add the 200g (7 Oz) of sugar. Typically white sugar is best but we like to replace 50g of it with brown sugar. This results in a slightly darker, caramel hue as well as a slightly spicier flavour.
Like the volume of water, you can tailor the amount of sugar that you add according to your tastes. Therefore, you can make it sweeter or sourer if you prefer.
Make sure that you don’t overheat the sugar and stir sparingly to avoid it sticking to the pan. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
5. Strain & Mix Ingredients
While waiting for the syrup to cool, strain the alcohol with a sieve to remove the peels. You can even leave no waste by using the leftovers to make candied lemon peels! This is a great activity while waiting for the sugar to cool down to room temperature.
Simply throw the peels onto a large frying pan under medium heat and coat them in lots of sugar. Add water and stir it in then let the peels to simmer for about half an hour. Afterwards, you can use the candied peels for cooking desserts or even cocktails!
Add the sugar syrup to the limoncello only once it has cooled down. Gently stir the contents and then transfer them to a clean bottle. And that’s it, your limoncello is ready!
Finally, you can produce something similar to Borgetta Limoncino by adding a few drops of grappa bianca to your concoction. It’ll increase the alcohol concentration while also adding a mellow fruitiness to the flavour.
Enjoy Your Homemade Limoncello!
Before you take your first sip, you may want to wait to let the limoncello settle. There are varying opinions on when limoncello is ready to drink and how to store it beforehand. Therefore, it’s up to you to choose how you want to proceed.
Some will say that the bottle needs to be returned to a cool and dark cellar for another week for ageing so the ingredients can steep and properly settle. Meanwhile, others believe that two weeks is perfectly sufficient and this can be done in the fridge.
In either case, it’s best to wait just a short while to make the most out of the flavours that the limoncello will offer. As we outline in our main limoncello guide, it’s also best served cold so you’ll at least need to wait until it’s chilled!
Where To Store Your Homemade Limoncello
There’s a debate about whether limoncello is best stored in the fridge or the freezer. Some people believe that limoncello needs to be so cold that it’s coated with ice or condensation. Alternatively, others will claim that it’s best kept in the fridge so it’s not too cold.
However, nature may decide for you! If your limoncello is above 35% ABV, it will likely be fine in the freezer. However, anything less may freeze. This isn’t always a bad thing as it can be pleasant as a refreshing slush. Similarly, the low quantity of water shouldn’t expand enough for the bottle to break in your freezer.
Having now learned about how to make limoncello, why do you read more about this wonderfully refreshing spirit?