Homemade Limoncello Liqueur

Homemade liqueurs are really easy to do; the hardest part of making this Homemade Limoncello Liqueur is the wait!

  Homemade Limoncello Liqueur Served in a Small Liqueur Glass

Limoncello. ‘The Elixir of the Gods.’ Tart, sweet, served bracingly cold; it’s the perfect liqueur for sipping after dinner. Add some Prosecco and berries like I do in this Limoncello Cooler and you’ve got a gorgeous apertif. It’s well known the very best is made in Sicily but that should not stop you from making your own! Truly, the best is when you make your own Homemade Limoncello Liqueur!

I love making liqueurs and it’s not about saving money; making your own allows you to not only control the quality of the end result but you can also determine taste based on the quantity of ingredients. Like something a bit less sweet? It’s in your hands.

The added plus for me is that I love to offer guests a liqueur I’ve made and they’ve become so popular with my friends and family that holiday gift giving has been made much easier. I’ve done Limoncello, coffee, chocolate and cranberry liqueurs that I think I could bottle full-time if my friends had their say.

Lemon Peels for Limoncello

This Limoncello is made with plain Eureka lemons, the ones found most often in supermarkets. The Sorrento lemon with a zest high in lemon oils is preferred for making Limoncello in Italy but I’m happy with the results from the Eureka lemon; maybe the end result color is not quite the yellow from commercial brands, but the taste is what matters to me.

The commercial brands of Limoncello I’ve purchased have included a dye for their coloring anyhow…so do that if  you want but I’m good with a product that is not so yellow as long as the result is a bright, lemony flavor and this definitely measures up to that standard.

More important I believe for overall quality is using good organic produce. Since you will be steeping the peels for some time in vodka I strongly recommend using organic lemons that have not been doused with pesticides. The ones I used also had a thicker and yellower rind…all conducive to making a superior product.

You want peel, not pith!

Although Limoncello is made with the peels of lemon, it’s extremely important to not include any of the white pith that is next to the peel or it will impart a bitter taste. If there is any pith on a slice, scrape it off with a knife or spoon.

I used a vegetable peeler and when necessary, a very sharp paring knife to scrape any pith from the peels. Some people prefer to grate the peels with a Microplane grater; though that does expose more of the peel to the vodka to extract the lemon essence I also think it’s more conducive to having some of that pith get included so I don’t recommend it.

Lemon Peels Steeping in Vodka for Limoncello

Recipes for Limoncello are all over the map. Giada de Laurentis has a recipe that only takes 4 days, I’ve seen others that require the peels be steeped for months. I’m not sure how much lemon flavor will come from 4 days and I’m way too impatient to plan months in advance, so my favorite recipe takes 3-4 weeks (all depends on how impatient YOU are!).

I’ve also seen several recipes that call for Everclear which is 195 proof alcohol; it’s true that the aromatic elements are leached from the lemon peel by alcohol so it stands to reason that the higher the proof of the vodka, the better. But Everclear is a harsh ingredient and I simply don’t like it; add to that fact that some stores won’t carry it because of that high alcohol content so I want something that is a bit smoother and more readily available.

Additionally the European recipes I’ve seen don’t use it and simply specify equal quantities of pure alcohol and water which is the equivalent of 100-proof vodka.So that’s what I use. Smirnoff 57 is 100-proof vodka; combining it with the others ingredients will result in a liqueur that is 60 proof which is what commercial varieties offer. If you can’t find 100 proof vodka, use the more common 80 proof and be sure to steep the peels for 4 weeks total to extract their flavor; your end result liqueur will then be 50-proof.

The high alcohol content is one reason Limoncello can be kept in the freezer without turning to a block of ice; the lower the alcohol content, the more ice formation you will see. If you do use 80-proof vodka; be sure to not overfill your bottles as you may see some ice crystals form; allowing some room for expansion will insure that you don’t have an explosion in your fridge!

Homemade Limoncello Liqueur Shown with a Finished Bottle and Two Glasses of Chilled Liqueur

Don’t limit yourself to just Limoncello; the same recipe can be used with limes, blood oranges, mandarins and more (next season I’m absolutely making Blood Orange Liqueur). Using grapefruit or their related fruits will result in something with a touch of bitterness, more akin to Campari or Aperol. Campari is just a bit too herbaceous for my tastes but I just love Aperol and the Aperol Spritz is a favorite cocktail so I need to put that on my own to do list.

By the way, the biggest expense I’ve found when it comes to making liqueurs for gifts are the bottles. I’ve begged for people to return them and some do but still, each year that I bottle up gifts, I’m flummoxed at how much I have to spend on bottles, often in the neighborhood of $8-10 each. Until now.

Not only can I find smaller sizes than those available locally but the unit price for bottles at Specialty Bottles is so much lower. I bought 2 cases of these 8.5 oz bottle with a gold lid and these shrink bands for the top since I ship items over the holidays. Cost including shipping? About $2/bottle! I thought I would share this with you in case you want to start running your own brewing facility too!

While I love Limoncello cold from the freezer, I also love using it when I bake; check out these tempting recipes on Parade Magazine’s Community Table that include my Limoncello Pound Cake and more great desserts from some talented bloggers. Make this now…and be enjoying some with friends by the 4th of July…cheers!

PIN ‘ Homemade Limoncello Liqueur’

Homemade Limoncello Liqueur Served in Small Liqueur Glasses

Yield: 2 Liters

Homemade Limoncello Liqueur

Homemade Limoncello Liqueur Served in Small Liqueur Glasses

It's such fun to make your own Limoncello!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 12 organic lemons
  • 1.75 liter bottle of 100-proof vodka, divided
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar

Instructions

  1. Wash the lemons well with soapy water, rinse and dry.
  2. Remove the yellow part of the lemon peel with a sharp peeler being careful to avoid any of bitter white pith. If any pith remains on the back of a strip of peel, scrape it off with a sharp knife.
  3. Put the yellow peels in a jar or bottle, add half of the vodka and seal tightly. Leave the bottle to steep until the peels lose their color, at least 2 weeks.
  4. Combine one cup of the water and all of the sugar in a saucepan and heat on medium high just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add one cup of ice cold water and let the mixture completely cool.
  5. Strain the vodka from the peels. I strain mine by lining a metal strainer with cheesecloth and pouring through both; that will remove the large peels and any smaller particles. Once strained, add the remaining vodka and the syrup.
  6. Put the liqueur in bottles, seal tightly and store for at least 1 week before using.
  7. For drinking straight, store the Limoncello in the freezer.

Notes

Prep time does not include the time required to age the finished product.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

2

Serving Size:

1 grams

Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g

 

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137 Comments

    1. I have not but there is no reason you can’t try them…they have a bit different flavor but I love them and think they would make a delicious liqueur.

    1. I have yet to try oranges but want to Will so yes, at least to start off I would just do a substitute. Please let me know how it works out; now I’m jealous!

  1. Thank you for a wonderful blog!
    Your recipe is almost exactly what I have been making for years, based on my William & Mary Sicilian Italian professor’s recipe which takes about a month. One needs time for the peels to steep for maximum extraction of flavor (Rome wasn’t built in a day!). One suggestion: during steeping period would stir daily.
    I lived in Naples, Italy & experienced the frequent jest of hospitality, the gratis “liquore della casa” at the end of the meal. There is much discussion in that area over who has the best lemons and most authentic limoncello: Sorrento, Capri or Amalfi!! Your recipe is pretty much a match for the those I sampled.
    Want to share that we made a fabulous take on this: Honeybellcello!
    Purchased Honeybell oranges while camping in Florida in February two years ago. The season is only about 5 weeks long and they are usually not shipped anywhere (too soft & fragile)…bell-shaped, extremely juicy and a unique honey-like flavor. Used same process as yours with fabulous results!
    We coveted those bottles & shared very sparingly.
    Going back in February….
    You are wonderful in giving prompt responses to peoples’ problems with theirs.
    Auguri (best wishes) and grazie!

    1. Laurie I love hearing this…I certainly want authenticity! I want to do orange too…might still try it before the end of this week. I’ve always thought blood oranges would make a beautiful liqueur!

  2. Since I was lucky enough to find this recipe, and you’re site, a few years ago… I have no clue how many batches I’ve made of this amazing recipe! I’ve shared the finished product with friends from Italy – each approved wholeheartedly! Two were from Sicily! I’ve also shared the recipe countless times! So. In. Love!!

    1. So glad you love it too! And what a great thing to know; wow if this one recipe can meet the approval of real Italians? Deb I’m in heaven; thanks for making my day!

  3. I just made this beautiful looking limoncello and I added the juice from the lemons to the peels + 100 proof vodka. Since I added the lemon juice, is it safe to leave at room temperature – will the vodka still preserve it?

    1. I’ve never done it Judy but if I had to guess I would say it should be fine; both the acid in the lemon juice and the alcohol in the vodka should keep it safe. Let me know how it turns out…I’m imagining you’ll need a bit more sugar?

      1. Thanks, I was thinking of using a honey simple syrup solution after it sits for 3-4 weeks. If you think it would be safer, I could store the limoncello in my refrigerator.

  4. I’ve been reading some of the comments here and have a few suggestions to add. Yes,it’s true that Limoncello is made with grain alcohol,but it’s not readily available in some states and it has a kick. A very good vodka will do,but the taste will be off slightly. To add more of a lemon flavor,squeeze the lemon juice(no seeds) from your peeled lemons into the container that has your peels and alcohol. And let that sit for at least a month,yes a month. Your looking for peels that have turned white and crisp and that means all the color & oil has been extracted. You can use honey to sweeten like it was done in the old days of Sicily or sugar water,the choice is yours. My family uses honey, as they are from the coast of Sicily. This version is what your most likely to find when you visit a mom & pop establishment in your travels. Salute!

    1. Thanks Sherry. It’s true…grain alcohol can be hard to find; I have yet to locate any in Denver, CO so I’m assuming it’s a state to state issue. I will try adding some lemon juice though and love the idea of honey. It’s almost time for me to consider a new batch so perfect timing!

      1. Nothing was wasted in the old days,not even the juice. If adding honey,add 1 1/4 -1 1/2 cups,more if you like it sweeter to every 750 ml. of alcohol. Maybe a cup of water if you want it thinned just a bit. Some forget that sugar wasn’t always available,but honey could always be found. This is about true old world as it gets and not many recipes can be found using honey and the juice together. There is one other out on the net that is like this,and our families are from the same region in Sicily.

  5. I’ve done this with organic LIMES too, (limettacello) the yield is much smaller, but definitely worth it. BTW.. I always use 195 proof GRAIN. True that it burns more, but if you rejig the dilution ratios, it’s not that bad, In addition, putting the finished product in the freezer is a MUST.

    1. I would try it but truth is all the liquor stores near me don’t even carry grain alcohol. I’m happy with the results so haven’t made a trek to far off lands (Nebraska?) to see if another state is more open to carrying it. 🙂

      And yes, I should add that tip about freezing it if I didn’t include it in the post. It’s the ONLY place to store it. I LOVES limes, actually more than lemons so limettacello is definitely on my radar…maybe I’ll move it up now that you’ve reminded me, thanks!

  6. This recipe looks fantastic!!! I’m about to give it a try but I had a quick question. Some recipes I have seen call for steeping the whole bottle of vodka with the lemon peels. Could you explain how the taste is different using half the bottle as your recipe calls for, to steep? Does it tone down the sweetness in the finished product, when you add the remaining half bottle at the end? Thanks 🙂

    1. To be honest Katherine I’m not sure exactly why I went this route it’s been so long since I first starting making it. It might have been something as simple as only having a half bottle on hand when I decided to try my hand at homemade! So, either way should work fine.

  7. I followed the instructions and let it sit for 7 weeks – it came out very sweet – not tart. What did I do wrong? Thanks

    1. I sent you a response via email Rick…I should have answered here. I don’t think you did anything wrong but there are some variables. The size of lemons can make as much of a difference as your own personal preferences. Next time? Just add the simple syrup to the vodka and stop when it’s sweet enough for you. You could try adding a bit more vodka now too to lessen that a bit; if you do would be best if it could sit a bit being being consumed to let the vodka mellow a little.

  8. I just want to make sure that you add the simple syrup mixture after the vodka and peels set for two weeks. Thank you!

    1. Yes! – I sent you a response via email too but wanted to answer this comment in the online conversation.

  9. Hello! I would like to make this for Holiday presents. If I make it this week, October 2015, will it still be good around Christmas?
    Thank you for any response you may offer
    Richard

    1. It will last for quite a while if you keep it chilled, the alcohol is a preservative. I just keep mine in the garage if I’m making a lot for gifts. Have fun!

    2. Hello Heather – I made a bottle of this right after getting your response and left the vodka and the lemons sit for about 7 weeks. I tried some after I put it into decorative bottles to give for Christmas and it is very sweet. What would cause it to be very sweet and not tart?

  10. i I absolutely must finally make limoncello and I don’t doubt yours is a perfect recipe. I never drink the stuff but it is excellent in mousse, macaron filling, etc.

    1. I find it a bit cloying Jamie as a straight up after dinner drink but I LOVE it combined with prosecco; you should try that. And yes…try making your own, label it from your hotel!

  11. What do you do with the rest of the vodka? The recipe says to add half to the peels. But, I missed what you do with the other half! Thanks. Sounds great and planning to try this recipe.

  12. I do not have glass jars or containers to “brew” the limoncello. Can I use large screwtop plastic containers?

    1. As long as they don’t have any odor from previous brews you’ve had in the jars. The vodka works to extract the flavor of the fruit; I wouldn’t want it to work it’s magic on plastic with leftover scents.

  13. Hi LOVE your site!
    The way you convey your fun and passion for making these liquors comes through and it’s contagious!!!

    I had forgotten that I had made a batch of Orangecello last December 1st. I did not add the simple syrup to it, it’s just orange peels and vodka (80 proof).

    Question:
    Do you think it it is still okay to continue making and bottling it or is it a goner and I should just start again with a new batch?

    THANKS SO MUCH for your inspiration!

    sanclementebetty

    1. Thanks so much Betty; love hearing that!

      I would sure try to rescue it. It should have been preserved by the vodka so just mix up a batch of simple syrup and add it and I bet it will be fine. Simple syrup is half water, half sugar that is heated until the sugar dissolves. Cool before adding to the vodka mix. Let me know…I want to make orange too!

    1. It’s difficult to find grain alcohol and even if I could I think the results are too harsh. I’ve found 80% which is higher than normal and have been happy with the results.

    2. I have been using everclear 95%alcohol that i run through a charcoal filter several times. This has removed the “harshness” that people have complained about in regards to grain alcohol. The end product has been wonderful. Its a trial and error thing. My first batch was so- so at best. After reading what other people have done,taking the good with the bad,i finally came up with something that has been wonderful…

      1. When I first decided to make Limoncello Dan I followed popular wisdom and wanted to try Everclear but couldn’t find it. So I found some 100 proof vodka. The higher alcohol content does extract more from the peels so I just offset that by steeping it longer (which is NOT easy!). Have you ever had creamy limoncello? That’s next up on my agenda for holiday gifts this year. I know it sounds weird to consider adding milk but it is SO good!

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