When Life Hands You Lemons…Make Limoncello!

Today on Bevy we're featuring a special guest post from my mother-in-law, Sue Vick, who shares how to make homemade Limoncello. It's surprisingly easy, 100% delicious, and makes for a perfect holiday gift!

After weeks of waiting, the Limoncello is ready! 

Limoncello is a lemon liqueur that originated in Southern Italy more than a century ago. Limoncello is traditionally served chilled as an aperitif or an after-dinner digestivo. Along the Amalfi Coast, it is usually served in small ceramic glasses that are also chilled. I first enjoyed Limoncello in earnest a few years ago while on a fabulous trip to the Amalfi Coast. Lemons grow in abundance in the region and the local shops are filled with displays of the golden liqueur. The “liquid gold” was always offered at the end of our delicious meals. We always accepted. 

Limoncello gets its flavor and distinctive, almost neon-yellow color from the infusion of the lemon skins in pure alcohol. I have seen various recipes that call for Everclear or grain alcohol, but as neither is legally sold in Virginia I opted for Smirnoff 100 proof vodka. 

Admittedly, the very best Limoncello is made in Italy because they have the very best lemons. But, you can make excellent Limoncello at home. Why do it? Because it is easy to make and many commercial Limoncellos are too sweet. It turns out all you need to make truly incredible Limoncello are some good lemons, a bottle of stiff vodka, and just a little patience. 

When you make your own, you can use the best citrus available and control the sugar to your taste - a good reason to experiment with different recipes and different batches. And while it is traditionally a drink enjoyed during the heat of the summer, it is also a nice little gift to share with friends and family at Christmas. 

Homemade Limoncello

  • 6 1/3 cups or 1.5 liter vodka 
  • 15 lemons
  • 5 cups water
  • 4 cups of sugar

To make the Limoncello: This recipe occurs in 2 different stages: first the macerating of the lemon peels in alcohol, and then the actual brewing or mellowing with the sugar syrup.

First stage:

Wash and dry the lemons. If you can, use organic lemons as they are free of pesticides and wax. Peel the lemons, making sure to only separate the yellow part of the peel from the fruit, and not go too deep. Take care to avoid the white pith as it will add a bitter taste to the Limoncello. This is best accomplished with a sharp vegetable peeler, but you can also use a Microplane grater made especially for zesting citrus. I used a combination of the two tools. Save the zested/peeled lemons for another use (salad dressing, marinade or lemonade!)

Place the peels in a large glass jar and add the vodka. Seal tightly and store in a cool dark place for 10 days to two weeks. Some recipes recommend steeping for as long as 40 days. Basically, the longer the better. I placed my jars in a cabinet in the basement for 12 days. This steeping period is necessary for the essence of the lemon oil to seep into the alcohol. You can shake the jar occasionally, but resist the urge to open up the jar. The liquid will become bright yellow and very aromatic.

Second stage:

After macerating for two weeks, the alcohol is now ready to be drained and mixed with the water and sugar.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup just comes to a boil. Some recipes call for filtered or distilled water, but I used good old Richmond, Virginia tap water. Remove the simple syrup from heat and let cool. I don’t like my Limoncello too sweet, so by all means experiment with the simple syrup and make it to your liking. 

Drain the lemon peel infusion from the jars through a moistened cheesecloth or coffee filter into a clean jar. Discard the peels. Repeat if necessary. Mix in the cooled sugar water with the drained liquid.

Now, for the second time, you have to exercise control and patience. Close and seal your jars tightly and let the liquid mellow for another two weeks to one month in the same cool dry place. Additional aging will result in a smoother marriage of flavors. Again, the longer the better.

Using a funnel, pour the liqueur into sterilized bottles. You can order bottles and personalized labels on-line.

Serve chilled. Salut, e cento anni!


  1. Oh my goodness, that sounds so delicious!

  2. Loved the step by step approach and the visuals....What a great gift idea! Cindy C.