What I Learned About Making Limoncello

Limoncello in two days instead of 45? That's worth trying. (Photo: Gudren Muenz/Shutterstock)

Last night, I bottled my first homemade batch of limoncello. I started the process over a month ago, and I mentioned it when I wrote about using up the leftover fresh lemon juice from the peeled lemons.

Making limoncello isn’t difficult, but there are a few things I learned along the way that I thought I’d pass along.

1. The basic ingredients for limoncello are the same in almost all recipes I found online: alcohol, lemon peel, simple syrup. But, the type of alcohol (vodka? 80 proof? 100 proof? Everclear?), how long the lemon peels steep in the vodka (or should it be lemon zest?), the amount of syrup to use, and when the finished product should be consumed (immediately? A month later? A year later?) is different in almost every set of directions I read. I spent some time reading many recipes and methods, and in the end followed my instincts. Here’s what I did.


  • 80 proof vodka – I used most of a 1.75 L bottle
  • 10 oz. organic lemon peels with as much of the white pith removed as possible
  • 1:1 simple syrup – I ended up using 4 cups in total of syrup


  1. Use a vegetable peeler to peel thin strips of the rind away from the lemons. If there is any white pith left on the underside of the rind, scrape it away with a pairing knife. The pith will give the limoncello a bitter flavor.
  2. Divide the rinds evenly in two 1-quart size Mason jars. Pour vodka into each jar, seal tightly and store in a cool, dark place. My lemon peels ended up steeping in the vodka for five weeks (much longer than many recipes called for). The longer they steep, the more lemony the flavor will be.
  3. Strain the steeped vodka into a large pitcher. You may want to strain it a couple of times to make sure all little pieces of peel are removed.
  4. Start adding the simple syrup until the limoncello is to your desired sweetness. I added two full cups at first, and then I added a quarter cup at a time until it tasted right to me. I ended up using four cups (one quart) of simple syrup. I realized that I now had a ratio. 2 parts lemon steeped 80-proof vodka to 1 part simple syrup. That’s good to know if I ever want to scale the recipe up or down.
  5. Using a narrow-necked funnel, pour into clean bottles, cap tightly, and store in a cool, dark place until ready to drink. When will that be? I’m not sure. It tasted pretty good last night, but it’s my understanding the flavors will improve over time. I think in about two weeks, I’ll take one bottle, stick it in the freezer, and start using it.

Below are photos of the vodka and lemon peels on the first day I started the project and again after five weeks of steeping. Look how the color of the vodka changed from clear to a beautiful yellow. (Sorry for the quality of the photo on the left – it’s the only one I have).

2. Brand new glass bottles are expensive. I searched for limoncello bottles on Amazon, eBay and various online stores. A case of twelve ran around $25 plus the shipping was expensive because glass is fragile and heavy. I ended up saving some long-necked glass bottles from salad dressings and condiments, removing their labels and label glue, and washing them really well. I didn’t have enough for all the limoncello I made, so I put the rest in Mason jars. From now on, I will save any bottle that would make a good limoncello bottle (and probably route through my friends’ recycling also!). You can see my finished bottles below.

3. Organic lemons are the best choice. The alcohol will leach everything out of the lemon peels, including any chemicals that were used to grow the lemons. Spending a little extra for organic lemons will give you a less toxic limoncello.

4. Friends and family get very excited when they find out you’re making homemade limoncello. Throughout the process, I posted photos to Instagram and Facebook, announcing its creation to the world. Everyone is dying to try it. Fortunately, I love to share and I have a lot of this liquid gold to go around.

5. Limoncello is considered a digestif. A digestif is a drink that is served after a meal to aid in digestion. It’s usually served cold (often kept in the freezer), and in small amounts – 1 to 2 ounces. Sometimes it’s served in espresso cups. I found 10 one-ounce stemmed glasses at Goodwill for $3 that I’ll be serving mine from. They look like tiny wine glasses.

6. Limoncello also works as a cocktail ingredient. I’m going to be working on creating my own cocktail from my batch, but I’ll also be trying some I’ve found online.

My original intent was not to make limoncello. It was to make blood orange cello, but I couldn’t get any blood oranges. I was so set on making cello, though, that I switched to the more common and traditional lemon variety. After my experience, I will absolutely be hunting down blood oranges for my next creation.
Have you made limoncello? Any advice for the next time I try to tackle the process?

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