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DIY Limoncello

DIY Limoncello

Adding homemade zest to your summer bar

A liqueur—intended to be sipped slowly after dinner or a compliment to dessert—is commonly referred as a ‘digestivo’ and, when it comes to a summer favorite, Limoncello is the star of the bar.

Made of fresh lemon zest, sugar and vodka or grain alcohol, Limoncello hails from the southern part of Italy. It’s designed to be served chilled, often straight from the freezer.

It’s not for everyone: if you don’t like lemons or liqueurs, it may not be your new drink. Really good Limoncello is all about getting the lemon flavor without the sour bitterness that is associated with the fruit. The ingredients are few and the process simple, so making Limoncello at home is as is traditional as making a holiday Turkey.

shutterstock_373502128Like any culinary endeavor, the quality of ingredients is key.

The star of the show is the zest of the lemon, not the juice. The lemon oil from the zest is where the flavor comes from: that’s why organic lemons are preferred, as you don’t have to scrape off the wax that is commonly on store bought fruit.

The alcohol used for infusing needs to be clean and flavorless to ensure that the lemon flavor doesn’t compete with anything else. And you want to use 100 proof alcohol so it doesn’t turn into a block of ice when you place it in your freezer.

Limoncello relies on patience—since it takes approximately 80 days and lots of love to get it right. The longer it sits the better it gets. The vodka slowly takes on the lemon flavor, and a rich color emerges. Done right, the smooth velvety taste of homemade Limoncello contains a blast of citrus zest in every sip.


  • 15 Lemons
  • 2 bottles (750ml) 100-proof vodka
  • 4 cups of sugar
  • 5 cups of water

Choose thick-skinned lemons — easier to zest
High level of alcohol won’t turn to ice in the freezer


  1. Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any pesticides or wax and pat them dry
  2. Zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler*
  3. Add 1 bottle of vodka to a 1-gallon jar
  4. Add the lemon zest
  5. Cover the jar and have it sit at room temperature for 10 days
  6. Move the jar into a cool dark place for up to 40 days**

* Use only the outer part of the rind, avoid the pith (the white part) — its bitterness will destroy the limoncello.

** The longer it rests, the better it tastes. No need to stir.


  1. Combine sugar and water in a large saucepan
  2. Cook until thick, about 5-7 minutes
  3. Once cooled, add to the Limoncello mixture
  4. Add the additional vodka
  5. Let it rest again, another 10-40 days


After the rest period, strain the mixture to remove the zest and keep in the freezer until ready to serve.


Lavender Dreams—Lemon tartness balanced by the sweetness of Lemoncello with a lovely bouquet of lavender.

To make the lavender syrup, simmer equal parts sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves; add dried lavender (which can be acquired at a number of local herb shops) and simmer while stirring for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, let soak for 10 minutes and then strain.

In a cocktail shaker with ice: 2 oz. Ketel, 1 Citroen or some other lemon vodka, 1 oz. Lemoncello, 1/2 oz. lemon juice, 1/4 oz. lavender syrup. Shake vigorous and strain into a martini glass with a sugar rim.

Michael Bellesiles, Bartender,
Bar Bouchee, Madison, CT

Limoncello Variations:

Pistachiocello is made with pistachio nuts, Meloncello is made with cantaloupe, and Frangelico is made with Strawberries.
There is also Crema di Limoncello that’s made with milk and is often less alcoholic.

Drink variations:

  • Chilled, Straight up (traditionally in a small glass)
  • Martini
  • On the rocks
  • On the rocks with splash of club soda


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