How to Make Homemade Limoncello

Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli
Italian Cuisine Expert and Food Blogger
Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli, the mastermind behind Nonna Box, has honed his culinary expertise for decades, inspired by family feasts in Emilia-Romagna. Mentored by his restaurateur nonna, he mastered Italian classics and furthered his skills with professional culinary studies in desserts and gelato making from Mec3. Today, he shares this rich legacy and authentic recipes through Nonna Box.
Expertise: Italian cuisine, Pasta, Pizza, Pastry, Dessert

Oh so easy to make and absolutely delicious, if you’ve never had a refreshing chilled glass of limoncello then this is your chance! This famous Italian lemon liqueur is sweet, zesty, and made with just 4 simple ingredients and little patience. It’s always served ice cold and makes the perfect ending to any meal.

Limoncello poured in two glasses.

What is limoncello?

Also known as limoncino in Northern Italy, limoncello is a delicious lemon liqueur that was created in southern Italy along the Amalfi coast about 100 years ago by a woman named Maria Antonia Farace. It’s a very simple and uncomplicated sweet liqueur that is traditionally made with nothing more than a neutral alcohol base, fresh lemon zest, and simple syrup. Limoncello is typically stored in the freezer to be served very cold in a shot glass as an after dinner digestive drink following a big meal of Italian food.

Yet, this refreshing lemon liqueur can also be added to Italian cocktails like a Limoncello spritz or boozy lemonade. As well as, used in desserts like Chocolate Almond Limoncello Cake, ice cream, or lemon tarts.

It can even be used to make limoncello tiramisu by simply substituting the wine with limoncello and omitting the coffee. It’s absolutely delicious!

What lemons are used in limoncello?

In Italy, limoncello is traditionally made with Sorrento lemons, which are a type of lemon that grows exclusively along the Amalfi coast. They are famous for the highly fragrant essential oils of their peel and sweet tart flavor. These characteristics make them perfect for infusing spirits to make limoncello. Yet, it’s not always possible to come by Sorrento lemons. Meyer lemons are a wonderful second choice, but you can use any lemon variety to make this Italian liqueur.

However, you should always use organic unwaxed lemons whenever possible. Because the zest of the lemons is macerated in alcohol the limoncello will absorb all the flavors and aroma of the peel. This includes any pesticides or wax that has been used on the fruit.

But if it’s not possible to find organic citrus you can gently scrub the lemons with a vegetable scrubber and a bit of warm water.

What are the ingredients in a limoncello?

Ingredients for homemade limoncello: lemons, alcohol, sugar and water.
  • Lemons – If possible use Sorrento lemons, which are what are traditionally used to make limoncello. Meyer lemons are a great second choice. However, any type of lemons can be used to make excellent limoncello. Even ones from your own lemon tree. Just make sure that they are organic and free of pesticides.
  • Alcohol – Ideally, you want to use a bottle of alcohol like Everclear, which is a grain alcohol that has a neutral taste. However, high-proof vodka is another option that works perfectly and you don’t need quality vodka the cheap stuff is fine. But the higher the alcohol content the better the limoncello strength and flavor.
  • Sugar – Basic white granulated sugar is all you need to make the simple syrup, which is made with just a few cups of sugar and a few cups of water.
  • Water – Water is also needed to make the sugar syrup that sweetens the liqueur.

How to make limoncello step by step

1. Prep the lemons

To start, make sure that you have washed and dried your lemons. You need to remove any wax or debris that is on the lemon skin photo 1.

Homemade limoncello procedure: the lemons are washed and dried.

Next, peel the lemons with a sharp paring knife or potato peeler photo 2 and put the peels into a clean large glass jar photo 3-4.

Homemade limoncello procedure: the lemons are peeled. The peels are put in a glass jar.

Then pour the alcohol over the lemon peels making sure that they are completely covered in liquid. Now, tightly seal the lid on the glass jar photo 5-6.

Homemade limoncello procedure: the alcohol is poured over the lemon peels. Next, the jar is sealed.

2. Let the lemon peel macerate

Once the lemon rinds and alcohol have been combined, put the sealed glass jar in a cool dark place out of direct sunlight for at least 4 days and up to 20 days. The longer you wait the more lemony your limoncello will become.

3. Make the simple syrup

After the peels have had time to infuse the alcohol with lemony flavor, you can make the simple syrup. To do this, just heat the sugar and water together over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then allow the mixture to completely cool photo 7-8.

Homemade limoncello procedure:  the sugar is dissolved in heated water.

4. Strain the alcohol

While the simple syrup is cooling, you can use a fine mesh strainer or coffee filter to begin straining the lemon-infused alcohol in the glass jar and discarding the lemon peels. You can also use a strainer with cheesecloth photo 9. The strained liquid should be a vibrant yellow color with a strong aroma from lemon peels photo 10. Then add the cooled simple syrup to the strained alcohol and mix them together.

Homemade limoncello procedure: the lemon-infused alcohol is strained. Next is a glass of the strained liquid.

5. Finish the limoncello

Now, pour the limoncello into bottles and seal them well photo 11-12.

Homemade limoncello procedure: the limoncello is poured into bottles and sealed.

Then put the bottles in a cool dark place for at least 2 days and up to 10 days. Once again, the longer you let your batch of limoncello rest the better the flavor will be.

Two glasses of homemade limoncello next to a lemon.

How to make limoncello using different types of alcohol

Obviously, for stronger limoncello, you need to grain alcohol or 100-proof vodka. These calculations below are provided to show you how to use both Everclear and vodka to make this homemade limoncello recipe and the approximate alcohol by volume (abv).

  1. Everclear 151-Proof (75.5% abv) – Final abv= 37%
  • 1 liter Everclear 150 Proof Grain Alcohol
  • 15 organic lemons
  • 400 grams sugar
  • 800 ml water
  1. Vodka 100-Proof (50% ABV) – Final abv= 33%
     
  • 1 liter Vodka 100 Proof Alcohol
  • 12 organic lemons
  • 240 grams sugar
  • 400 ml water
  1. Vodka 80-Proof (40% ABV) – Final abv= 33%
  • 1 liter Vodka 80 Proof Alcohol
  • 10 organic lemons
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 120 ml water

How do you peel lemons for limoncello?

This step is fairly important to the outcome of your Italian limoncello and there are a few different ways to do it. You can use a very sharp knife, but the easiest way is to use a vegetable peeler. It does a fantastic job of peeling off just the zest.

Another way to remove the zest is by finely grating the lemons with a microplane. But regardless of how you choose to peel the lemons you want to make sure you only remove the yellow peel because the white pith can give your limoncello a bitter taste.

In the image below, on the far right, you can see an example of what the peel should look like when peeled correctly.

how to peel lemons for limoncello the correct way

What to do with the peeled lemons after making limoncello

You’ve peeled all the lemons for your limoncello, but now you’ve got loads of leftover lemons. But not to worry, they don’t have to go to waste. And you can make more than just flavorful lemon tea, lemon water, or lemonade! The juice can be used to make this delicious Herby Lemon Risotto for dinner and Lemon Semifreddo for dessert! Or, the leftover fresh lemon juice can be used to make this scrumptious Chicken Scaloppine with Lemon and Herbs or this refined Beef Carpaccio Recipe With Orange and Lemon Vinaigrette Marinade!

Here are other Italian drinks to try it out:

Or use Limoncello to make this recipes:

Expert Tips

  • Make sure you don’t use any of the white pith and only the lemon peels so your limoncello doesn’t turn out bitter.
  • If you don’t have enough lemons, never add concentrated lemon juice. Instead, finely grate the lemons you do have to extract the most flavor from them.
  • Always use a sterilized glass jar. And one with a wide mouth will make it easier to strain the alcohol.
  • Shake the glass bottle with the lemon rinds and alcohol every few days if you are making Limoncello with vodka. It can help to make the liqueur have a more intense lemon flavor.
  • You must use simple syrup to sweeten your own limoncello. You can’t just add sugar and water to the alcohol without dissolving it first. The limoncello recipe will not turn out correctly.

How long will homemade limoncello last?

A bottle of limoncello will keep at room temperature for a few days. But it’s best kept in the freezer for up to 3 months, which will keep this after dinner drink nice and cold!

Should homemade limoncello be clear or cloudy?

Don’t worry if your limoncello is a little cloudy. This is called “the ouzo effect”, doesn’t impact the taste at all, and is a totally natural experience. It’s caused when the sugar from the simple syrup comes into contact with the essential oils of the lemon peels.

Can you substitute limes for lemons in limoncello?

Yes, of course! Almost any citrus fruit with a peel can be used. You can use limes to make homemade limecello and tangerines to make a homemade mandarincello. The process is exactly the same and they are both absolutely delicious.

glass of limoncello next to a limoncello bottle

Limoncello recipe

Make this famous Italian drink with our recipe for homemade limoncello. Simple and delicious!
4.58 from 38 votes
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Course: Drinks
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 14 days 30 minutes
Servings: 10 cups
Calories: 389kcal

Ingredients

  • 15 organic lemons Sorrento or Meyer if possible
  • 1 liter bottle of grain alcohol Everclear or Vodka
  • 400 grams granulated white sugar 2 cups
  • 800 ml Water 3 ⅓ cups

Instructions

  • Wash and dry the lemons. Then zest them using a microplane or peel them using a vegetable peeler or knife. But do not include any of the bitter white pith under the peel.
  • Put the zest from all the lemons in a sterilized glass jar and then pour in the grain alcohol. There should be enough alcohol to completely cover all the lemon peels.
  • Put the lid on the glass jar and seal it tightly. Now, store it in a cool dark place for at least 4 days and up to 20 days. The longer the peels are left in the alcohol the more your limoncello will taste of lemon.
  • Heat the sugar and water together in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Then let the simple syrup cool to room temperature.
  • Strain the alcohol and discard the lemon peels. The liquid should be dark yellow in color and have a strong lemon smell.
  • Pour the cooled simple syrup into the strained alcohol and mix well. Then pour the mixture into bottles and seal them tightly. Now, let the bottles sit in a dark place for at least 2 days and up to 10 days. The longer you wait the more intense the lemon flavor.

Notes

If your limoncello is too strong for your tastes, try adding a cup of water at a time until it’s diluted to a level you’re comfortable with.
Serving: 10g | Calories: 389kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 0.02g | Fat: 0.1g | Saturated Fat: 0.001g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.001g | Sodium: 5mg | Potassium: 5mg | Fiber: 0.04g | Sugar: 40g | Vitamin A: 0.3IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 3mg | Iron: 0.1mg
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