A full and labeled bottle of Homemade Limoncello lies on a white kitchen towel among lemons and other filled bottles.

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!

Swing top bottle labeled as "Handmade Limoncello" sits next to a lemon and a glass full of limoncello.

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.

Split image of lemons being peeled. On the left, a peeler lies next to a peeled lemon among many intact lemons. On the right, hands use a paring knife to cut the peels.

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!

Wholefully Protip

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.

Hands pour Everclear into a glass mason jar filled with lemon peels.

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!

Three bottles of limoncello sitting next to a lemon.

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).

Wholefully Protip

You can figure out if you can get Everclear near you using this product locator.

Bottle of Everclear sitting in front of a pile of lemons and a mason jar filled with Everclear and lemon peels.

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!

Wholefully Protip

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!

Lemon peels infusing into grain alcohol in a glass mason jar.

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.

Wholefully Protip

If you are using fully-leaded Everclear 190, make sure to use at least 3 1/2 cups of water in your simple syrup.

Two swing-top bottles of limoncello on a counter.

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!

Mason jar filled with alcohol infused with lemons, mixed with simple syrup.

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.

For both of them, I printed out our free limoncello labels onto Avery 2 1/2” round water-resistant labels.

Two different sizes of swing-top bottles, labeled and filled with limoncello.

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 AlcoholAdded Simple SyrupEstimated ABVEstimated Proof
750ml Everclear 190 proof5 1/2 cups35% **70
750ml Everclear 151 proof 5 1/2 cups*28% 56
750ml Everclear 120 proof5 1/2 cups*22%44
750ml Vodka 80 proof5 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.

Swing top bottle labeled as "Handmade Limoncello" sits next to a lemon and 2 glasses full of limoncello.

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.

Looking for more handmade food gifts or fun kitchen projects? Check these out:

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A full and labeled bottle of Homemade Limoncello lies on a white kitchen towel among lemons and other filled bottles.

Homemade Limoncello Recipe

Yield: 8 cups
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 4 days
Total Time: 4 days 30 minutes

Homemade Limoncello is a lemon liqueur that makes an impressive gift for the cocktail lovers in your life! It's easy to make at home following our recipe.

Adapted from: Everclear

Ingredients

  • 10-14 organic lemons
  • 750ml Everclear 190/189 Proof (preferable) or Everclear 151, Everclear 120 or 80+ Proof Vodka, see post for more information
  • 3 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Wash the lemons well, then peel into long strips—use a light touch, you want to leave as much of the pith behind as possible. If using Everclear 190/189, 10 lemons will be enough; for the other alcohols, you’ll need to peel more lemons as the proof level decreases.
  2. Using a sharp knife, scrape away the remaining white pith on the inside of the peels. Too much pith makes for a bitter end result.
  3. Place the lemon peels in a half-gallon canning jar. Cover with the Everclear or vodka. Close lid and place in a spot out of direct sunlight. Shake daily. Infuse for at least four days (in the case of Everclear 190/189) and up to six weeks (for the lower proof alcohols). The infusion is ready when the alcohol is bright yellow and the lemon peels have lost most of their color. 
  4. When the infusion is ready, heat the water in a large saucepan over high heat. Add in the sugar, whisk, and bring to a boil. Boil until the sugar is completely dissolved, about two minutes. Let simple syrup cool to room temperature.
  5. Pour the simple syrup into the lemon infusion. Close the lid on the jar again, and shake well to combine.
  6. Strain the lemon peels out of the limoncello through a fine mesh sieve. Pour into bottles, label, chill, and serve!
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 64 Serving Size: 1.5 oz (1 shot)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 43Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 1gSugar: 10gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

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38 Comments

  1. This is my second year of making your recipe. I have a very prolific lemon tree and this Limoncello is perfect!! The ratio of the simple syrup and Everclear is spot on!! Such a perfectly delicious, ice cold summer drink!!!! I’m so glad I came across this last year. Thank you for suggesting these bottles, as well. The Container Store is great for these!!

    1. Thanks so much, Denise! We’re go glad you love the recipe, and we really appreciate you coming back to tell us about it!

  2. Hi! I’m sorry I didn’t ask you before. Almost all recipies indicate that you have to boil the water with the sugar to disolve it, then let the liquid cool to room temperature. Why is it necessary to go through the heating step? Is it just to get the sugar disolved more quickly? I always disolve the sugar in water at room temperature. It takes a little more time, but nothing else. Am I doing wrong? Best regards!

    1. Hi Bernardo! Boiling the water not only allows the sugar to dissolve faster, it also thickens the final simple syrup slightly. If that slightly thickened texture isn’t important to you, then you can definitely make simple syrup without heating the water!

      1. Danielle, thank you for answering! The “thickening” you mention is a rise in the viscosity of the syrup? If so, it should be due an evaporation of part of the water being heated, isn’t it? But if it vaporizes in some extent, then the ratios of water/ alcohol/ sugar in the recipe get changed. Am I thinking right?

  3. Hello to everyone. I make limoncello since 2017, but in the two lasts years I’m having trouble with the caps I use to bottle the production. Some of them get broken. Are there any chemical incompatibility between limoncello and some plastics, or is it just that the quality of the caps is bad? For example, I know that limoncello is incompatible with polystyrene because of the organic acids in the peel.
    Perhaps the bottled limoncello releases some type of gas that rises the internal pressure of the bottle? Or may be I’m imparting too much force to the tight and the material fails? Any comment will be very appreciated. Thank you very much in advance, and forgive my bad English!

    1. Hello Bernardo! We’re not sure what might be causing the issue with your caps. There isn’t anything in the limoncello that should be causing a buildup of pressure. And as long as the caps are capable of handling exposure to alcohol, there shouldn’t be anything that would cause them to break down or fail. You might consider a different kind of cap if the ones you have keep breaking. We like using swing-top bottles, but any kind of glass bottle or jar should do the trick. We hope you find ones that will work for you!

  4. Hi, I only used 12 lemons on a batch of 120 proof everclear bottle of 1.75l. I misread the ratio and thought I was using 750ml. I started infusing on 12/6/23. Can I add more lemon zest now or is it too late?

    1. Hi Melissa! You can definitely add more lemon peels to strengthen the infusion if you want. You’ll know it’s ready when the alcohol is a bright, saturated yellow color and the peels have lost most of their color!

  5. I’ve made this using Everclear. However, it’s a bit strong. Can I just add more water without making a simple syrup as I don’t want to make it any sweeter?
    Appreciate how easy this was to make! Thank you.

    1. Hi Maureen! You can mix each serving with still or sparkling water to dilute it if it’s too strong. We don’t recommend adding more water to the entire batch, but drink by drink should be fine! If you found it was too strong with the Everclear this time, you could always try making it with high proof vodka next time. Glad you found the recipe easy-peasy! Thanks for letting us know =)

  6. I plan on making this for a bridal shower favor. Do the bottles have to be glass? Finding small glass bottles with a truly airtight lid isn’t easy. I found plastic bottles with a screw lid can I use those instead?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Cristin! Plastic bottles for gifting will work fine! The only thing to consider is whether or not your bottles are freezer safe, in case your guests stash them in the freezer. Otherwise, you could instruct them to store it in the fridge instead. Then any bottle with an water-tight lid will work.

  7. I made a large batch of limoncello, it is infusing in 3 different containers. In 2 of the containers, after a month ( I used vodka) the color is deep yellow almost orange. The other (original vodka bottle) is pale yellow. Have not added the simple syrup yet. Do you think something is off with the containers?

    1. Hi Veronica! It doesn’t sound like anything is off. It’s possible that two of the containers infused faster for some reason, and the other one just needs more time or maybe more peels. Let us know how it turns out for you!

  8. I made the limocello exactly as specified on the recipe and it was delicious !! However, I would like to make a batch that is a little less boozy and closer to the store-bought brand that have ABV more like 30%. If I still want to use the Everclear 190, how would you recommend modifying the recipe to make it sweeter, but still be able to freeze it?

    1. Hi Nick! Without a hydrometer, we really can’t give you an exact amount of simple syrup to add to bring down the ABV. That’s why we only have ballpark estimates in the post. For something that specific and exact, you can get a hydrometer, experiment with some trial and error using our best practices from the post to guide you, or figure out the formulas and calculations needed to make the math work out! If you give it a go and land on something that works for you, let us know!