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.