Limoncello liqueur is one of the most beautifully perfect drinks to enjoy on a hot summer day. It’s tart, it’s sweet, and it’s incredibly refreshing—think of it as a boozy lemonade for grownups! Serve it ice cold straight-up, or stir it with club soda for a fizzy lemon cocktail. Classic limoncello is fancy enough to serve to guests (or give as a gift!), but simple enough for even a kitchen novice to make.
What is limoncello?
If you’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying limoncello, you’re in for a real treat! Limoncello is a traditional Italian liqueur made from lemons. The flavor is tart, citrusy, and sweet (thanks to the addition of simple syrup).
Limoncello is traditionally drunk as an aperitif—an alcoholic drink that is taken either before or after a meal to stimulate digestion. Some folks also use limoncello as a palate cleanser between courses. And of course, some people (hi, me!) just like to sip it because it tastes so darn delicious! Limoncello is a common drink in the summertime because it is so refreshing, but it tastes wonderful all year!
How do you drink limoncello?
Limoncello is typically drunk chilled and straight. You’ll often see limoncello served in a chilled shot glass for sipping. Or, you can use your limoncello as a jumping off point for all kinds of delicious cocktails! I love it mixed with some lemon sparkling water for a Limoncello Spritzer.
What kind of lemons do I need?
We prefer regular, organic lemons for limoncello. You can use the smaller, less tart Meyer lemons, but you will need a lot more lemons and your flavor won’t be quite as strong.
How do you make limoncello?
We have a full printable recipe and a video tutorial at the end of this post, but let me walk you through a step-by-step photo tutorial for how to make this limoncello recipe. The process is incredibly easy, and it’s really just three steps:
Step 1: Peel organic lemons.
Yes, organic is important! Conventional lemons tend to be coated in wax or other sealers that make it difficult to infuse the lemon flavor.
Use your vegetable peeler to remove the rind of the lemons, and then use a sharp paring knife to scrape out the pith—the white part inside of the peel of citrus fruit. Too much pith will make your limoncello bitter—you just want the zest!
This is a case where organic really matters! You’ll get much more lemon flavor in your limoncello with organic lemons.
Step 2: Infuse the lemon peels in alcohol.
We’ll talk in a sec about the two different kinds of alcohol you can use—grain alcohol or vodka—but the method is the same: fill a jar with your lemon peels, and then cover with the alcohol. Close the jar and shake daily to infuse to your taste (more on that in a second, too).
Step 3: Sweeten with simple syrup, strain, and enjoy!
Once the mixture is infused properly, sweeten the limoncello to taste with simple syrup, strain, and then bottle. Chill and enjoy!
What alcohol should you use for homemade limoncello?
You could honestly use any alcohol you wanted and turn it into a lemon liqueur. However, you’ll most commonly see limoncello made from one of two alcohols:
Grain alcohol (189 or 190 proof is best, 151 or 120 proof works): Grain alcohol (known by the brand name Everclear) is the alcohol I recommend making your limoncello from—if you can get your hands on it. Because Everclear is almost pure alcohol, it has the cleanest flavor and does the best job of extracting the lemon flavor.
Everclear is to always be treated as an unfinished ingredient and never ingested undiluted (our recipe calls for diluting the Everclear by more than half). Unfortunately, Everclear isn’t legal in all states in the U.S. (and in some states, only the less-potent 151 or 120 proof varieties are).
You can figure out if you can get Everclear near you using this product locator.
Vodka (highest proof you can find): The next best option is getting high-quality, high proof (80+ proof) vodka. The infusion will take longer to make and you’ll need to add extra lemons (which we noted in the recipe), but it should do the trick.
How long do you infuse homemade limoncello?
This depends on what alcohol you got your hands on. When infusing in 190 proof Everclear, you can get by with infusing for as little as four or five days—although I would recommend closer to two weeks for the most lemony flavor. Lower proof alcohols will take longer (4-6 weeks wouldn’t be out of the question). The best way to tell if your infusion is ready is to take a peek. Have the lemon peels lost most of their color? Is the alcohol a bright, saturated yellow? If so, then you’re ready!
A higher proof alcohol like Everclear 190 will infuse faster, but lower proof alcohol will do the trick as well. You’ll know your limoncello is done infusing when the alcohol is lemon-yellow!
How much sugar do you add to limoncello?
It’s important to dilute your lemon infusion with simple syrup after straining to turn it into limoncello. Simple syrup is made by boiling water and sugar together until the sugar is completely dissolved. We use 3 1/2 cups water boiled with 3 cups sugar per 750ml bottle of alcohol. This results in a sweet, but still tart and boozy, limoncello.
You can adjust the simple syrup ratio (adding more or less sugar) to taste, but I do recommend keeping the water amount—3 1/2 cups—the same to get proper and safe dilution of Everclear 190. If you’re using Everclear 151 or vodka, you can get by with adding less water.
If you are using fully-leaded Everclear 190, make sure to use at least 3 1/2 cups of water in your simple syrup.
Is my homemade limoncello supposed to be cloudy?
You have this beautiful, bright yellow, crystal clear infused alcohol and then you go add the simple syrup and BAM, suddenly the mixture is cloudy. What did you do wrong? Absolutely nothing, friend! Limoncello is almost always cloudy.
You’ve experienced the Ouzo Effect—or spontaneous emulsification. This tends to happen with high-proof Everclear, but can sometimes be hit-or-miss when it comes to using vodka or lower proof grain alcohol. Either way, it’s fine to drink!
What’s the best way to bottle homemade limoncello?
You can honestly use whatever recycled glass bottle or jar you have kicking around. Just as long as it’s water-tight, it’ll do the trick! In these pictures, we used two different sizes of swing-top bottles (you’ll probably want a funnel to fill these!): these 16 ounce swing-tops make great gifts, and these 8 ounce swing tops are perfect for stocking stuffers! Mason jars also do the trick.
How much alcohol is in this limoncello recipe?
How much alcohol is in each serving of your limoncello depends on two factors—what proof alcohol you use to extract the lemon and how much simple syrup you add in the end. While we can’t give you the exact percentage of alcohol of your limoncello (you’ll need a hydrometer for that), we can give you some ballpark estimates:
|Starting Alcohol||Added Simple Syrup||Estimated ABV||Estimated Proof|
|750ml Everclear 190 proof||5 1/2 cups||35% **||70|
|750ml Everclear 151 proof||5 1/2 cups*||28%||56|
|750ml Everclear 120 proof||5 1/2 cups*||22%||44|
|750ml Vodka 80 proof||5 1/2 cups*||15%||30|
|* Feel free to use less simple syrup in these infusions to reduce sweetness and increase the alcohol content.
** This ABV is high enough to not freeze if stored in the freezer (which we recommend for a truly refreshing glass of limoncello). The other three should be stored in the fridge, unless the simple syrup addition is adjusted so the ABV is higher than 30%, which is about the point where liquor no longer freezes in standard home freezers.
Do you have to keep homemade limoncello in the refrigerator?
We recommend storing your limoncello in the freezer (for limoncello made with Everclear 190) or the fridge (for limoncello made with other alcohols), mostly because limoncello is meant to be drunk chilled, but also because it also helps to extend shelf life.
If you are gifting the limoncello, keeping it chilled can be tricky, so it’ll be fine at room temperature for a few weeks. Both alcohol and sugar are excellent preservatives, so no worries about spoiling. Just let your recipient know to stash their limoncello in the fridge or freezer instead of in their liquor cabinet.
How long does homemade limoncello last?
Limoncello is so good that it’ll be long gone before it goes bad! Because alcohol and sugar are such good preservatives, you can easily get a year or even more out of stashing your limoncello in the freezer or fridge.
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