Limoncello is an Italian liqueur typically served after a meal and serves as digestive, which means to help digest a meal. Is it just an excuse to have a drink when the last drop of wine is finished from the bottle? Possibly, but it is the  second most popular liqueur in Italy after Campari.  It does not stop in Italy, it is very popular in other parts of the world like the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Regardless of anything, this is a very refreshing drink which is excellent chilled and especially in the Summer time.

This is great in place of the harsher grappa and can even be served over vanilla ice cream. Anisette or sambuca is great with coffee, but if you want something really to cleanse your palate, this will be the go-to drink.

Like most Italian recipes, they will vary from region to region and household to household. While you can easily buy this in the section of your liquor store which also has Amaretto, Amaro, Grappa and Sambuca, nothing quite compares to the homemade stuff, especially since it is all natural and free of artificial coloring.

I tried this years ago, but for this recipe, I trust my Sicilian comrade Geoff Malta with the recipe and technique which I know is tried and true.

INGREDIENTS: For every two 750ml bottles of product you will need:

  • 6 lemons, cleaned and scrubbed
  • 750ml glass bottle 190 proof grain alcohol like Everclear, if it is not legal where you live, try 100 proof vodka or any neutral (clear) grain spirit which is “overproof”.
  • 1 Quart mason jar (with lid), sanitized in dishwasher
  • 1.5 cups of sugar (1-2.5 cups, depending on sweet tooth)
  • 750ml water, preferably spring water (not tap water)
  • A 2nd clean, empty clear glass 750ml bottle
  • Vegetable peeler and/or zester
  • Funnel
  • Coffee filters
  • Quart measuring cup


1) Peel/zest the lemons, avoiding the pith (white part). If you get any pith, scrape off with a knife blade. A tiny bit won’t kill it, but a lot will make it bitter. Make lemonade with the fruit itself (6 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup lemon juice)

2) Add zest to mason jar, pour in entire bottle of Everclear, close tightly then place in a cool, dark cupboard for 30-40 days. I swirl them every week or so when I think of it. Waiting is the hardest part, but while you’re waiting, polish off a 750ml clear bottle of vodka, and wash/save both bottles!

3) After the steeping period, wash the 2 empty bottles. (I sanitize them in the dishwasher)

4) Measure one empty bottle with spring water (I have a water cooler), and bring to a boil in a large sauce pan. Once boiling, add sugar 1 cup at a time and stir to dissolve. Allow to thicken for 6-8 minutes, stirring often.

5) Let the simple syrup (sugar water) cool completely — move to cool burner and let sit for a couple hours, covered if you have a bug problem.

6) Place funnel over quart measuring cup and measure out 12 ounces simple syrup. Then pour another 12* ounces of the lemony alcohol for 24 ounces. (I filter the alcohol through a coffee filter placed in the funnel)

7) Use funnel to pour mixture into empty 750ml bottle. Splash a little more spring water in there to fill within an inch or two from the top. Close bottle tightly.

8) Repeat for 2nd bottle. Place first bottle for drinking in freezer, next to your vodka  — the other in a “cool dark place” (I prefer the fridge, or freezer if there’s room). Let it sit at least overnight before drinking to chill; it should last a good long while (years).

9) You’ll likely have some simple syrup and alcohol left over, so measure equally for an early tasting. It’ll likely be strong still! I poured this leftover into what I had left from the previous batch and returned to freezer.

*If 90+ proof is too strong (it isn’t for me), what I’ve been doing is taking a couple strong shots myself before serving it to others, then refilling the bottle with cold spring water, until it’s nice and smooth. Alternatively, if you have an empty/clean pint bottle, you can use less than 12oz alcohol per 750ml bottle and add more water, and make an extra “pint” (375ml bottle) or so — I haven’t figured out the measurements as a stiff shot never killed anyone.

Keep and serve from the freezer — it’s supposed to be refreshing!

Contributed by J. Geoff Malta


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