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Is the Lemon Peel Infusion Finished?

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This is a common question I get over email so I wanted to write a post that covers the issue. I'll add it to my email series as well. It's an important question because it can save you a lot of time in the process depending on how strong the liquor is that you're using. 

Lemon zest in alcohol

Stronger (higher proof) liquors will do a faster, more efficient job of pulling the lemon oils out of the zest. Therefore you can shorten the infusion times if you develop an eye for when your zest has fully given up the ghost.

This is easier to see if you have zest at several stages of infusion, but I wanted to give you a benchmark for what zest looks like when it is finished. Below is an image of the finished zest in the alcohol. It's a bit harder to see that it is as pale as it is when it's in the infused liquor because the yellow color is now in the liquor itself. ​

Here's what it looks like out of the infusion. As you can see, it's very pale in color, almost a sickly grayish tint. The shade varies a bit, sometimes it's more whitish, but you're just looking for the distinct lack of the vibrant yellow color that the zest had to begin with.

Lemon zest

Below is the real close-up and you can tell here that the zest is pale and translucent. There's still a small amount of yellow left but this zest has given up every bit of lemon oil that it has to give.

Lemon zest after infusion

And now you know! If your zest is pale and translucent, it doesn't matter if it's been sitting there for 30 days or for 45 days. You can stick a fork in it, 'cuz it's done. 

How Long Can You Keep Limoncello Before It Goes Bad?

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I've gotten a lot of questions from readers over the years and by far, the single largest category has to do with the math of creating a batch of limoncello with the proper proportions of ingredients. However, another big question--perhaps #2 although a distant second--concerns how long you can keep a bottle of limoncello around. I'll start with the short answer. 

Can Limoncello Go Bad or Expire?

You should generally try to consume limoncello within 2 years of creating or opening it. Limoncello only contains 4 ingredients, 2 of which are preservatives. So, it will never “go bad” like milk would but it does lose its lemon scent and flavor over time.

The Longer Answer

Quite accidentally, I am able to give a pretty solid answer to this question from experience. A while back I moved to a new house and I happened to belatedly unpack a box, finding a partial bottle of one of my old batches.

Remnants of Batch #4

As you can see in the photos, it is from batch #4, a batch that I reviewed on the site so I know it's about five and a half years old at the time of tasting. It hasn't been well cared for either, it was sitting in my basement at both houses. So I said "what the heck," I'll take this opportunity to see if this stuff holds up.

Batch 4 Remnants cont.

The verdict? This particular example held up very well! My main problem with this batch was a roughness in the flavor and all that time resting really subdued the alcohol. The limoncello was still flavorful and it is now pretty smooth as well. So, my final opinion used to be that you can rest limoncello as long as you like. 

However, I've visited with some folks who keep a much more detailed history of their limoncello-making than I do (I know...strange but true) and there is a downside to resting limoncello TOO long. While it's still ok to drink, as in "not repulsive," it does become insipid after about 2 years on the shelf. It loses a lot of the lemon-y flavor it once had. That just leaves you with simple syrup and high-octane liquor. 

Whether the limoncello is opened or unopened (mine above was opened) doesn't really matter. It also doesn't matter whether the limoncello is commercial or homemade because alcohol is an excellent preservative. Keeping it in the freezer the whole time, while a waste of freezer space, probably does slow the decline of the flavor as colder temperatures tend to do in most cases. 

So if you leave a bottle on the shelf too long, do what I do and give it a taste. If it's still good, awesome! If it has lost it's vigor, use it in a cocktail. But whatever you do, don't let it go to waste!

Revisiting a Couple Brands of Limoncello

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Rometti and Fabrizia limoncello

A day of cleaning uncovered some hidden treasures in one of my pantries so I thought I'd share the good fortune. I found a couple long-lost bottles of commercial limoncello that I had previously reviewed. Both of them are now roughly three years old so I thought I'd taste them side by side and see how the aging affected them. 

One bottle was from Fabrizia and the other from Rometti, both are craft producers that I had reviewed favorably in the past. I should start by saying that you should drink your limoncello sooner than this and this isn't really a fair test of either brand because this is a fringe use case at best. Most people lack the willpower to leave bottles of limoncello around this long.

As you can see from the picture below, there's a substantial color difference in the limoncellos at this point. The Fabrizia is much lighter than the Rometti. That alone doesn't mean much, but the color carries through to the character of both. 

Review of two brands of limoncello

Neither of the brands had much of a lemony flavor at this point, which is why you shouldn't leave them on the shelf this long. But the Fabrizia had a lighter and brighter flavor, much like its color. This bottle of Fabrizia clocks in at 27% alcohol whereas the Rometti sits at 32% and that's a sizable difference that shows up in the flavor.

The flavor of the Fabrizia is mostly sweet now, with a hint of lemon and a medium weight mouthfeel. The Rometti's character is now all about the heat of the alcohol and it has a heavy, syrupy mouthfeel. I've essentially ruined both bottles by waiting this long, but if you tend to lose things in your pantry like I do, Fabrizia is the better choice in limoncello.​

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