If you haven’t had Limoncello or at least heard of it, I question if you’re really Italian or Italian-American? Limoncello one of the most popular liqueurs in Italy and it has recently become very popular in The United States. Because Limoncello imparts a strong lemon flavor without the sourness or bitterness of pure lemon juice it is a trendy ingredient in cocktails and desserts; and restaurants are now increasingly offering Limoncello on their beverage and dessert menus. In Italy, Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as a “digestivo”, or after-dinner digestive; and along the Amalfi Coast, it is usually served in small ceramic Capodimonte cups that are also chilled.
Limoncello is primarily produced in Southern Italy in the region around Naples including the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento and the islands of Capri and Ischia. It is also produced in Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia. While the exact origin of the liqueur is unknown, it is at least one hundred years old. Recently The United States has seen a rise in commercial production of Limoncello using California lemons that are grown year round.
Traditionally made from Sorrento Lemons, the zest of the lemon, peels without the pith, is steeped in pure grain alcohol until the oil is released and the alcohol is infused with the lemon essence resulting in an aromatic yellow spirit. This spirit is then mixed with simple syrup and varying the sugar/water ratio and temperature will affect the clarity, viscosity, alcohol content and flavor of the final liqueur. An alcohol content of 28-32% is considered optimal for Limoncello, though a less alcoholic version, which is known as Crema di Limoncello, having an alcohol content of around 16% also exists.
You can buy Limoncello in most liquor stores here in The States, and the prices range from about $15 to over $100 for a 750ml bottle, averaging around $22. However, it is very easy to make at home, but it is a slow process and requires some patience. My preferred method is to use organic lemons and Everclear® 190 proof grain alcohol. By using organic lemons I don’t need to worry about the chemical pesticides that would leech into the alcohol. It also eliminates the extra step of scrubbing off the pesticides along with the wax used to coat lemons found in grocery stores. For the alcohol, Everclear is a good choice and is sold in every liquor store; and because at 190 proof it dilutes to the proper alcohol ratio of 28-32% when mixed with simple sugar. Some recipes call for vodka but I don’t think it’s a good choice. Keep in mind vodka is about 80 proof or 40% alcohol, and when mixed with simple sugar the alcohol ratio dilutes to about 14-18%, which is very weak for traditional Limoncello.
The process to make Limoncello involves steeping the lemon zest in the alcohol for 4 to 6 weeks in a cool, dark place. Some methods call for longer steeping times, sometimes up to 3 months, ostensibly to create a stronger flavor. I don’t think there’s any benefit to this, keeping in mind that longer steeping yields diminishing returns; there is only so much oil to be extracted from the zest. Therefore, if you want a stronger lemon taste use more lemons rather than steeping longer. When ready the zest is the strained from the spirit and the spirit is then mixed with simple sugar, bottled and then again stored in a cool, dark place for at least 10 more days and preferably longer, to mellow and allow the Limoncello to become smoother before drinking.
When the spirit is mixed with the simple syrup it becomes cloudy. This is called the Ouzo effect and is the result of spontaneous emulsification of the sugar and extracted lemon oil. While commercial Limoncello is clarified, and you certainly can do so at home also, I find that it’s more cosmetic than truly beneficial to the final product; and in my opinion, keeping your homemade Limoncello cloudy adds to its artisanal quality.
The final step is to bottle your Limoncello. I like to use 750ml swing stopper bottles and the following recipe will require 3 bottles. Wash and sanitize the bottles immediately before filling. Then using a funnel and a ladle fill each bottle to about 1 or 2 inches from the top. If there’s any remaining, pour it over ice and enjoy it, knowing that it will only get smoother as it mellows.
So, whether you bring some home from your vacation in Italy, buy it from your favorite liquor store or make it yourself, a great way to store your Limoncello is in the freezer. Because of the high alcohol content, it will not totally freeze at normal home freezer temperatures, and you will always have a frosty bottle on hand to enjoy after a special meal or with your special friends.
- 3 750ml bottles with stoppers
- 15 Lemons
- 1 750ml 190 proof Everclear
- 3 ½ cups Water
- 2 ½ cups Sugar
- Peel the zest from 15 freshly washed, organic lemons being careful to remove any remaining pith from the zest, as this will impart a bitter taste. Reserve the lemons for other uses.
- Add the lemon zest and Everclear into a 2 quart sealable glass jar and let steep for 4 to 6 weeks in a cool, dark place to infuse into an aromatic yellow spirit.
- After the lemon-Everclear spirit is infused, combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly until sugar is fully dissolved, approximately 5-10 minutes, then let the simple syrup cool to room temperature.
- While the simple sugar is cooling, line a strainer with cheesecloth and strain the infused spirit into a large stainless steel pot removing the zest and other solids.
- After the simple sugar cools to room temperature, combine it with the lemon-Everclear spirit and mix well. The mixture will be cloudy.
- Wash and sanitize three 750ml swing top bottles. Using a funnel and ladle, fill each bottle to 1 to 2 inches from the top.
- Again, store the bottles in a cool, dark place or even in your freezer for at least 10 days before drinking, preferably longer, to allow the Limoncello to mellow and become smoother.
- Serve well chilled.
Barbara Gugliotta Pierce says
Of course it’s good. Here’s what Everclear(R) is: Everclear is a brand name of rectified spirit sold by American company Luxco. Luxco Brand is made from corn. It is bottled at 151-proof (75.5% ABV) and 190-proof (95% ABV).
Robert Sabbatini says
I see that recipes vary a great deal on the web. My question is if you take 750 ml of 191 proof (95 ABV) alcohol and dilute it with 0.82 liters of water and sugar, how does this result in the recommended 28-32 ABV? Wouldn’t it be more like 48 ABV (90 proof) as the alcohol : water ratio is approximately 1:1. Thanks
Eligio Bucciarelli says
Good question. Yes, you are right; at 1:1 the dilution is 50% so the ABV is 45. However, keep in mind that the recipe calls for 3.5 cups of water and 2.5 cups of sugar which yields about 4.25 cups of simple sugar. So, 750 ml of Everclear = about 3.2 cups of alcohol at 45 ABV, thus the ratio is 3.2 Everclear to 4.25 simple sugar, which is a 75% dilution (3.2/4.25). Therefore 45 ABV x .75 = 33.75 ABV. This is slightly above the 28-32 ABV range, but who’s going to complain?
Jim Adams says
Hi, I know this thread is old, but i’m trying to make limoncello and am confused. If you are using 190 Everclear, wouldn’t the starting ABV be 95%? Or if you are using 151 Everclear it would be 75.5%. How do you get to 45% ABV, or 90 proof, prior to adding the simple sugar solution? It looks like you’re diluting it twice – once to bring it to 45 ABV, then again when adding the simple sugar. Can you help with the math? Thanks –
Eligio Bucciarelli says
You don’t, you arrive at 45% ABV AFTER adding the simple sugar solution. I previously answered a similar question, so I’ll paste the same response here: “At 1:1 the dilution is 50% so the ABV is 45. However, keep in mind that the recipe calls for 3.5 cups of water and 2.5 cups of sugar which yields about 4.25 cups of simple sugar. So, 750 ml of Everclear = about 3.2 cups of alcohol at 45 ABV, thus the ratio is 3.2(cups) Everclear to 4.25(cups) simple sugar, which is a 75% dilution (3.2/4.25). Therefore 45 ABV x .75 = 33.75 ABV. This is slightly above the 28-32 ABV range, but who’s going to complain?”
Eligio Bucciarelli says
We always keep our limoncello in the freezer; and for some large batches, we’ve kept it for a year or even longer. Because of the alcohol and depending on the freezer temperature, the limoncello may not freeze, may turn to slush or it may freeze completely. If it doesn’t freeze, enjoy it right out of the freezer. If it turns slushy, take it out for a few minutes and it will melt back rather quickly. If it’s completely frozen, you’ll have to have it out for quite awhile so you won’t be able to serve it on the spur of the moment. BTW, when filling the bottle, always leave room for expansion while in the freezer; otherwise, you may have a mess to deal with.
Brian Dennis says
Ok what am I missing here – hopefully not too obvious. We have (1) 750ml bottle of Everclear and (1) 1/2 cups of water which equates to approximately 350 ml total. The recipe says it will fill (3) 750 ml bottles yet there’s only 1100 ml of liquid. I have the lemons and everclear ready in about 1 week and will be on phase 2 of the recipe. Grazie!
Eligio Bucciarelli says
Look at the recipe again, It clearly states 3 1/2 cups of water, not (1) 1/2 cup. That is to say 3.5 cups or 28oz or 828ml; take your pick. As the sugar melts down it creates approximately 500ml of simple syrup. So 750+828+500=2078ml, thus two full 750ml bottles and most of a third.
I used 151 Everclear for this recipe as 190 is not available to me. I’m not great with math so not sure that I can figure the finished product proof correctly. I know you’ve answered similar questions but I’m not positive if you were speaking of using the 190 or the 151 Everclear. Help, please?
Eligio Bucciarelli says
The answer is in the article when you think of it as simple algebra. Note the range of ABV using 190 proof as 28%-32%. So, using 151 proof the ABV is easily calculated by setting up the ratios and solving for the unknown variable we’ll call “y” in this case. Therefore, 32/190 x y/151 or 190y=4,832 so y=25.4% on the high side; or, 28/190 x y/151 or 190y=4,228 so y=22.25% on the low side. Thus, all else being equal 151 proof yields a “lighter” limoncello, but it should still be pretty good. Another strategy is to increase the volume of 151 proof Everclear to 1 liter (1,000 ml) and reducing the water by 1 cup or 8 oz, which equals about 237 ml; approximately the amount you increased the 151 Everclear by. This will increase the final ABV of the limoncello to something closer to using 190 proof Everclear; just guessing the increase by about 4% so the range may be around 26%-30%. From here it’s up to you as to what to produce; either a lighter limoncello by maintaing the ingredients as listed in the article, or one of similar strength to using 190 proof by increasing the volume of 151 proof and reducing the water. In any case, enjoy!
Ronald Vannello says
My head is spinning on all the numbers. I am ready to make my Limoncello after steeping in 151 Everclear for 30 days. I see your formula is using 190 so the water sugar ratios are confusing me since I am using 1.75 liter bottle of 151 Everclear; with that said what is the recommended amount of water and sugar per 1.75 liter of 151 Everclear.
Eligio Bucciarelli says
This is very simple. First figure all the ingredients for using 1,750ml of 190 Everclear per the recipe. So, 1,750ml is 2.33 times 750ml (1,750/750). Now, simply multiply the water, sugar, and the lemons too, by 2.33. Here you have your big batch of of roughly 28% to 32% ABV Limoncello! From here just adjust for 151 Everclear as I described to Karen in the previous comment by increasing the amount of 151 Everclear and by reducing the water.
Using the numbers in my response to Karen, increase the Everclear by 2.33 x 250ml which equals 583ml to a total of 2,333ml and reduce the water by 2.33 cups or about 19oz, or from about 8 cups to about 6 . That’s it, you’re done. BTW, I’ll be holding remedial math classes for my followers on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8PM. 😉 🙂
claude waver says
Hi I have been using this recipe for a while and always get rave reviews. I have 700 ml left in a bottle. What would be a smart way of adjusting lemons and simple syrup