I had never heard of limoncello before the summer of 2007. It was then that my then-wife and I embarked on a Mediterranean cruise, which included a visit to Sorrento, Italy, the birthplace of limoncello, and the place where they grow the largest lemons I’ve ever seen. I saw lemons at a market that were literally the size of my head!
When we were in Sorrento, I had my first taste of this lemon liqueur called limoncello. It was great — lemony, very high proof, served very cold in a frozen shotglass, and it burned all the way down. The drink is meant to be a digestivo, which means it is served after a meal to aid in digestion.
Of course, you can use it to get hammered, too. And if you make it the way I do, it won’t take all that much.
Not that I recommend getting hammered. I don’t have more than one drink of this stuff, except on special occasions.
Now, if you’ve had the limoncello that you buy in stores here in the U.S., you probably think it’s a sweet drink. Yeah, the stuff I’ve found in liquor stores is. But that’s not right!
The authentic limoncello I had in Sorrento was anything but sweet.
Fortunately, as I was sitting in the Sorrentan pizzeria, expressing to my then-wife how delicious I thought this drink was, the guy behind the counter overheard and proudly told me he made it himself.
“Really? How do you do that?” I asked.
He gave me the barest of recipes in broken English, but he did emphasize, “Use grain alcohol, not vodka!”
I took what he said and experimented until I arrived at what I feel is a very authentic home-made limoncello. The nice thing about making it yourself, of course, is that you can adapt it to your own taste, so feel free to do so.
How to make limoncello…
- 1 liter of Everclear — Do NOT buy the lower-proof versions. Use only the 189- or 190-proof kind.
- 5-7 medium to large lemons
- 1 liter of clean water
- 2 TB granulated sugar – You can use more or less to your taste. When I first made this recipe I used 3/4 cup!
- Vegetable peeler or grater to peel or zest the lemons
- Wide-mouth 1.5 liter (or larger) airtight jar to store the Everclear and lemon peels during infusion
- Something to remove the peels from the Everclear after the infusing is done, like a spaghetti spoon
- Clean coffee filter to strain infused Everclear
- Pot to heat simple syrup on the stove
- Bottles to put your limoncello into when it’s ready — I like to use flip-top bottles, but you could use leftover Everclear, or any other, bottles
- Large, plastic funnel to help you fill the bottles
- Wash the lemons to remove dirt and pesticides.
- Peel or zest the YELLOW ONLY from the lemons. Try not to get any white. I peel, because it’s easier.
- Combine Everclear with the lemon rind in a resealable airtight widemouth jar.
- Steep for 14 to 21 days in a dark, cool place, like a cupboard. Turn the jar every couple days to mix it up a bit. Just one simple upside down turn, then back.
- On the last day of steeping, combine the water and sugar in a pot over medium-low heat.
- Stir the sugar-water mixture continually until all the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Remove the peels/zest from the Everclear. I use a spaghetti spoon to pull them out, but however you can figure to do it is fine.
- Strain the infused Everclear through a coffee filter or some such thing to remove excess solids.
- Funnel half of the Everclear into each of two one-liter bottles.
- Fill the bottles the rest of the way with the cooled simple syrup.
- Put the bottles into the freezer.
Limoncello is best served in a thick frozen shotglass straight out of the freezer. It’s meant for sipping, not shooting, but do what you will.
By the way, I have also tried this recipe with oranges, tangerines, and limes. Oranges and tangerines — EXCELLENT! Limes — TERRIBLE!