I've been making limoncello at home, from lemons grown in my backyard for about 5 years now. During that time, I've experimented with various recipes, tweaking the ingredients and amounts here and there looking for that one "perfect" recipe. Until last year, I had always used 100 proof vodka as the base for the liqueur, but compared to commercial limoncellos I had tried, I felt something was missing. My vodka version just didn't have enough lemon essence to satisfy what I was after.

Last year, I made two batches of limoncello using the same recipe with one small difference. The first batch used 100 proof vodka while the second batch used 190 proof grain alcohol (they had to be diluted with different amounts of sugar-water). When it came time to taste the two batches side by side, the difference in taste was amazing. The batch made with grain alcohol had a much brighter and stronger taste of lemon than did the vodka version. It was obvious to me that the grain alcohol had done a much better job of removing and infusing the essential oils from the lemon peels than the vodka was capable of.

This year, I've decided to make another batch of the grain alcohol based limoncello. My lemon tree had a bad year, perhaps due to last year's frost, and only produced enough lemons for a single batch of limoncello - about 16 lemons total. Tweaking my recipe from last year a bit, here's what I'm planning to do:

Combine the peels (with pith removed) of 16 lemons with two 750ml bottles of grain alcohol (Everclear brand) in a glass jar. Swirl vigorously and make sure all of the peels are submerged. Place the jar in a cool dark place for 30-45 days, until the liquid is bright yellow.

After the initial steeping time is up, make a simple syrup by bringing 6 cups of spring water and 4 cups of sugar to a boil while stirring rapidly. Allow to boil for minutes, then remove from the stove and allow to cool to room temperature. Next, add the simple syrup to the jar with the grain alcohol and lemon peels. Put the jar back in its cool dark place for another 30-45 days.

Once the limoncello has aged, strain it to remove the peels and any other particulates before bottling in individual sealable bottles. I like to use French limonade botles with ceramic caps. I once tried buying plain, unused bottles, but I found that to be much more expensive than just buying the French limonade, drinking it, then reusing the bottles for my limoncello.

If you find this recipe to be a bit to strong, you can further dilute the limoncello by adding additional water or sugar syrup to taste.

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jb's Gravatar The little Italian place near me, Veneto Trattoria, makes their own limoncello. They also use Everclear in the making. Superior to any retail brand I've found (and the food is super as well).
# Posted By jb | 1/7/08 5:12 PM
Rob Brooks-Bilson's Gravatar Hi JB,

I haven't been to Veneto Trattoria yet, but from their website, it looks like it's worth a visit.

I've noticed that more and more small independents seem to be making their own limoncello these days. Arrivederci over my way is also making their own, also with grain alcohol (it tasted very similar to the batch I made last year). It's nice to see more places doing it, as I think the homemade versions are every bit as good as the commercial brands I've tried, even though none of us are using lemons from the Amalfi coast.
# Posted By Rob Brooks-Bilson | 1/9/08 10:37 PM
The Food Hunter's Gravatar I'm getting ready to make limoncello for the first time. I'm glad I came across this post. Did you have a hard time finding the Everclear here in Phx? I can't wait to have some of my own Limoncello. I just can't believe I'm going to have to wait so long to taste it. Thanks for posting your method! Cheers!
# Posted By The Food Hunter | 1/16/08 10:13 AM
Rob Brooks-Bilson's Gravatar My neighborhood Safeway doesn't carry Everclear, but the Fry's down the street did. Also, BevMo has it as does AJ's, although at AJ's, you'll pay about $5 more a bottle than everywhere else!

Stop back and let me know how your batch turns out in a few months ;-)
# Posted By Rob Brooks-Bilson | 1/17/08 7:14 AM
Jay's Gravatar about how much sugar would you add to the water?
# Posted By Jay | 1/17/08 12:30 PM
Rob Brooks-Bilson's Gravatar Hi Jay,

I'm using 6 cups of water to 4 cups of sugar this year. In the past, some of the other ratios I tried were a bit too sweet. If you go 6:4, and you find it isn't sweet enough, you can always add more sugar later.
# Posted By Rob Brooks-Bilson | 1/17/08 12:44 PM
Bill's Gravatar I have also made several batches of lemoncello which came out great, unfortunately i just found out that everclear no longer sells grain alcohol. Any idea where it can be ordered from?
# Posted By Bill | 1/22/08 3:19 PM
Rob Brooks-Bilson's Gravatar Bill,

As far as I can tell, they are still making it:

I just picked up some at my local Fry's, and I know bevmo and AJ's sell it as well. I'm not sure what state you are in but the 190 proof version is illegal in Ohio, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Hawaii, New York and Florida (from Wikipedia).

Another brand to look for is Graves Grain. It was popular in the mid-atlantic region when I lived back on the East coast.
# Posted By Rob Brooks-Bilson | 1/22/08 5:26 PM
The Food Hunter's Gravatar I bought some at Bevmo this weekend. It was on sale for $11.
# Posted By The Food Hunter | 1/22/08 5:27 PM
Obe's Gravatar I'm in Italy right now just around the corner from Sorento,(Amalfi coast) lemonchello heaven.
My landlord made me lemonchello for Christmas.. it is great.. he uses a few more
lemons than you .. would never use Vodka (as you suggested) and of course there lemons are always organic.
I have looked at many of the recipes on line and I like your the best.. A big thank you..
# Posted By Obe | 12/24/08 7:13 AM
Frank's Gravatar I wanted to ask how this batch of Limoncello came out after you tweaked the recipe? I have about 20 lemons ready to make my first batch of Limoncello. We have 190 proof grain alcohol available so I will definitely be using that.

Did you find your water to sugar ratio good compared to the alcohol with this recipe? Was it too sweet or just right?
# Posted By Frank | 4/13/09 12:06 AM
Neil's Gravatar This looks like one of the best recipes I have seen. A couple of questions, this will be the first time using everclear what do you think the final proof would be??
My wife likes it on the lower side as she doesn't like the burn. My last batch was with vodka and I must have added to much simple syrup as it froze.
What would you recomend??
# Posted By Neil | 4/22/09 4:24 PM
Toby's Gravatar The end result will be around 40%bv, but the longer you leave it the smoother it will become - I make my Limoncello now so that's it's ready to drink next year, but I've got some 2 year old stuff that's AMAZING!
You have to use Everclear, or an alcohol that's at least 95% proof because the alcohol draws out more of the natural oils from the lemon skin - Vodka just doesn't cut it.
It's easy to get hold of strong alcohol in Italy, but I'm not sure about the rest of the world - we certainly don't have it in the UK, so I stock up when we're out in Italia!

Spero che questo e' di utile! Ciao ciao!
# Posted By Toby | 5/25/09 3:05 AM
Lia's Gravatar I made the lemoncello and it is on it's last 40 days...will be ready June 30,
but I just noticed it has a cloudyness to it and gunk settling on the bottom. Is this typical?
Do you know what it might be and how to get rid of it...or is it spoiled?
# Posted By Lia | 6/23/09 8:12 PM
Rob Brooks-Bilson's Gravatar Hi Lia,

Don't worry, it hasn't gone bad. Sediment sometimes happens. Try giving it a really good stir and see if that helps. When you go to bottle, you can also try filtering through a fine sieve or coffee filter to remove any remaining sediment.
# Posted By Rob Brooks-Bilson | 7/6/09 7:10 PM
ron fonock's Gravatar To All;

I have been making an excellent version of lemoncello for over 10 years. Without a doubt, the key to sucess is using a zesting planer to get the zest from the lemons
and NOT a peller. The PLaner breaks up all the oil pockets while thepeeling meothod doesn't. Beleiev me, this is th silotion to your probl;em, not the grain Vs. vodka issue.

Plus, my mehtod takes only 2 weeks from start to finish.

If interested, I will send you my full recipe in a WORD has been uch requested.

# Posted By ron fonock | 8/4/09 9:36 AM
shawn's Gravatar Tonights the night. Last 2 years we have made our batches using various
amounts of vodka, sugar and lemons. Last year we used 40 lemons, 2 fifths
of 100 proof and 2 fifths of 80 proof. Then the we made the simple syrup
bottled and drank. I agree with the post that after you bottle it it gets
better with age. We live in California so Everclear is not something you can get here.
But we had a buddy bring us 4 bottles of 190 proof and tonight we made our
first batch using 70 lemons and 4 fifths of Everclear. I will keep you all posted!
# Posted By shawn | 10/6/09 11:56 PM
Frank's Gravatar I followed the recipe pretty close with real grain alcohol/everclear and it has a serious bite towards the end of drinking, enough to make it unpleasant to drink. I think I may need to mix a little extra simple syrup into it.
# Posted By Frank | 10/7/09 3:59 PM
Rob Brooks-Bilson's Gravatar Frank, sometimes it just depends on the lemons you use and personal preference. There's no harm in adding more sugar syrup or diluting with a little additional water to taste. Give it a go and let me know how it works out.
# Posted By Rob Brooks-Bilson | 10/7/09 6:06 PM
Rob Brooks-Bilson's Gravatar Shawn,

Looking forward to hear how it works out for you!
# Posted By Rob Brooks-Bilson | 10/7/09 6:07 PM
Mike Picicci's Gravatar Ron Fonock , can you send me your limoncello recipe...thanks
# Posted By Mike Picicci | 12/20/09 10:44 PM
Marilyn's Gravatar Hi, can I dilute my Lemoncello with filtered water if I feel it is too strong (alcohol) but has a wonderful Lemon taste?
# Posted By Marilyn | 12/2/10 3:43 PM

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