With over a decade of experience making limoncello at home, I’ve spent a lot of time tinkering with the alcohol percentage (proof) of limoncello. I’ve also reviewed many of the commercial limoncello brands, so this is a pretty easy one to answer.
The alcohol content of most commercially available brands of limoncello is between 24% to 32% (48-64 proof). Most brands tend to land in the high 20% range, around 27%-29% alcohol by volume.
That’s what the major brands do, but the beauty of making your own limoncello is that you can make it your own, and customizing the alcohol percentage is a big part of that. Read on to see what you can do to personalize the flavor of limoncello for your particular palette.
In my experience, the single largest concern that most people have is drinking or making limoncello that is too sweet. Limoncello is sweet by nature, that’s also part of the appeal. But it often has a thicker consistency and can strike people as sickly sweet at the lower range of alcohol content.
For this reason, when people start customizing the alcohol percentage I advise folks to shoot for 30% (60 proof) as a starting point. The standard homemade limoncello recipe that I promote on this site is even higher than that (~37%) and it is a widely beloved recipe…if I do say so myself. I believe the reason for this is that most adult palettes tend to appreciate flavors rather than sweetness alone. Also, people who enjoy cocktails also tend to appreciate bitterness as a flavor component.
Sipping an ice-cold glass of limoncello straight from the freezer—though completely awesome—is only one use case for limoncello. You can cook with it, make desserts, make cocktails, etc. For some other use cases it might make sense to use a sweeter limoncello because the sugar will survive any cooking while most of the alcohol will evaporate.
However, that ice-cold freezer shot is by far the most common case, so how can we alter it to be exactly what you want? You need to conduct an experiment that will require making some limoncello at home. Different brands of limoncello that you buy at the store will have different characteristics—sometimes remarkably so. That means you can’t just buy 2 different brands with different alcohol levels and see which one you prefer. I mean, you CAN do that, but that’s not a clean test at all.
What you’d need to do is create a batch of limoncello at home, split the infusion into 2 half batches, and then add different amounts of simple syrup to achieve different alcohol percentages in the final limoncello product.
That’s an excellent question, I’m glad you asked! Because I get this question frequently I’ve created a couple of calculators on the site to help you determine the proportions of limoncello required to achieve a specified alcohol content. There is a simple version that is just a dilution calculator, then a more sophisticated one that helps you dial in the sweetness by altering the simple syrup. You can find them both here.
Q: I made a batch that has way too much alcohol in it, can I dilute it after the fact?
A: Sure, just add more simple syrup of the same proportions you originally used. This will make it sweeter of course, but a sweeter and milder product is what you’re shooting for in this case.
Q: I made a batch that is way too sweet, can I fix it?
A: You can use the more sophisticated calculator on my site to attempt to further dilute it, but in my experience this rarely ends well. It’s harder to dilute the sugar after the fact without making it insipid.
Q: Does the type of alcohol you use matter?
A: It doesn’t matter to the alcohol content beyond it’s proof, but it matters to the flavor in my opinion. I prefer to use grain alcohol that has been filtered as opposed to vodka and other liquors that carry more of their own flavor.