Thank you so much for subscribing to the "How to Make Hand-Crafted Limoncello" 6-module email course! I really appreciate you signing up and putting up with my email subject lines because they'll get even goofier than this I promise. Now I know you want to make some tasty 'cello, so let's get right to it!
Module 1: Selecting Your Lemons
Like many lovers of limoncello, I got the bug when I first visited Italy. I visited on my honeymoon and one of our stops was in Florence. There are thousands of little shops in Florence and the proprietor of one shop took a liking to us.
He was trying (unsuccessfully) to sell my new bride a rabbit fur coat and discovered that we were on our honeymoon. He immediately pushed us to the nearest bistro--which at 10 am looked like it was serving breakfast--jumped to the front of the line and requested 3 shots of limoncello. My wife doesn't drink so he got one and I got two!
The sweet nectar I tasted there was from the Amalfi coast and the lemons they grow there are the best in the world for making limoncello. Those lemons don't often make it to America so we have to choose the best we can get our hands on here.
Lemon selection is really one of the most important factors in creating great limoncello because there are only a few ingredients and the lemons impart ALL of the characteristic flavor of limoncello. The rest is just sugar water and alcohol so it's important to pick the right fruit. So, in one of my blog posts, I conducted an experiment that showed me the best way to great tasting limoncello is to buy organic lemons. The color of the limoncello was darker, more of a deep yellow than a chartreuse, but the flavor was superior. Non-organic lemons have pesticides, herbicides and wax to seal in all the toxins. That stuff isn't just toxic; it adds flavors to your limoncello that you don't want. Organic lemons are more expensive but well worth it because the exterior of the fruit is the part you'll use to make limoncello.
Next, I try to do most of my limoncello-making while lemons are in season. That makes it easier to find good ones. You can let the limoncello rest for the remainder of the year if you want to, it will only improve over time.
Pick lemons that are as large, round and smooth as possible. These characteristics make it easier to zest them without getting any of the white pith in your limoncello, which makes the liqueur bitter.
The next step is to select your liquor, another step that makes all the difference in the final product. I hope that you're enjoying this course and my blog, and you'll hear from me again very soon.
It's time to pick your poison. I get a lot of questions about which liquor to use when making homemade limoncello. The simplest answer to this question is "the strongest flavorless liquor you can buy in your area."
Module 2: Selecting Your Liquor
Your local liquor laws dictate your choices in the base liquor you use. Unless you're in a very rural area, you can probably find liquor stores that will offer every type of liquor that can legally be sold. However, I do recommend asking at the store because strong grain alcohol has a limited set of uses and some places that do sell it don't stock it on the shelves. I was once able to order a case of 190 proof Everclear in New Hampshire this way (it is no longer sold there though). In that case I also had to explain my intended use in order to buy it.
You want the strongest (highest alcohol percentage) liquor because it will do the best job of pulling the lemon flavor from the lemon zest. Strong liquor cuts down the infusion time by pulling the oils from the lemon peel faster as well. Here is a quick list of the most common types of liquor you can use to make limoncello:
Everclear (151 & 190 proof)
Vodka (100 proof)
Vodka (80 proof)
80 proof vodka is the choice of last resort because it's the weakest of the bunch. I prefer to use a mid-grade brand like Smirnoff and filter it before using it. If you can't get anything but vodka in your area, get creative. My in-laws live in Florida and we usually visit at least once per year. They have lenient liquor laws there so I have used that as an opportunity to score a case of 151 Everclear on occasion. Even at a decent level of production, a case of grain alcohol goes a loooong way.
Filtering the Liquor
There is some controversy over the necessity of this step, but I preach it like the gospel. You really need to filter the liquor before using it in your limoncello infusion. It's counter-intuitive because when the alcohol percentage is high there's less "other stuff" in the liquor. However, a very high alcohol percentage means the likelihood of people drinking it straight drops and therefore it doesn't need to taste as good. No one in his or her right mind sips 190 proof grain alcohol, so why filter it to make it tasty?
I've conducted a number of experiments on filtration and I can tell you with certainty that filtering your liquor will yield a smoother limoncello that you will find much more drinkable.
If you're using Grey Goose, you won't notice a big difference. But that's a very expensive way to make limoncello. Using cheap or mid-grade 100 proof vodkas is a common method and anything from Smirnoff to grain alcohol will benefit from filtration.
I have used a standard Brita filter for this but there has been some concern about the liquor leeching chemicals from the filters themselves. So I now use a Gray Kangaroo to do the same thing. It is purpose built for liquor filtration and has the added benefit of cheaper replacement filters.
Now that you've chosen your liquor and your lemons, the next step is to make sure you have all the other tools you need to start assembling your first infusion.
Could I ask you for a favor? I'd love to know what your biggest question is about limoncello-making right now. Please just reply to this email and let me know, I read every reply.
Well, not an Amazon, just, Amazon. Because I make a wish and 2 days later stuff appears on my doorstep. Magic!
When I first started making limoncello, I probably spent a few hundred dollars on various supplies. I was always seeking a slightly better, cheaper or more efficient set of tools. This was particularly true of the zester and the filtering supplies. There are many tools you can test out, but this set will get the job done and can be had for less than $100 all in. For a slightly more complete rundown you can also check out the tools article on my blog.
Module 3: Limoncello Tools
The link above will take you to a good glass jar option on Amazon. I've also seen that Home Goods is a good place to get these locally for a reasonable price. You can get smaller ones for smaller batches but I wouldn't recommend it unless space is really THAT tight for you. I recommend having four of them so that you can split test and run multiple batches in parallel. This is particularly important if you need to produce a good batch for an event and you don't have a lot of experience. It allows you to test different recipes and only present the best one.
That is a link to the exact one that I use; it's just a basic plastic model. You can also buy these at any grocery store for a couple bucks. The ones with the flat bottom are best because they are stable as they sit in the top of your funnel.
If you purchase a flat bottomed permanent filter, then definitely get the flat bottomed paper filters to match. The link above is to the exact ones I use and you go through a lot of them so get a decent supply. I get the unbleached variety because I like to keep everything as natural as possible and introduce as few additional flavors as possible.
You can use whatever you want here depending on how pretty the bottle needs to be. I've made many batches where I used the empty grain alcohol bottles to hold the final product because it's for my testing purposes only. For gift giving I've been considering sourcing my own bottles and selling them on Amazon because I can't find exactly what I want, especially at a decent price. However, the link above goes to some bottles that look like a typical limoncello bottle so they would make nice gift bottles.
I am a HUGE fan of the Microplane zester. Not everyone agrees with me on this, but I say don't even bother with any other kind of zester. Many of the mistakes I made early on were due to zesting errors. Peelers, power zesters, contraptions that fit in your palm, I've tried them all and for the purposes of making limoncello they all suck. So, ignore my warning at your own peril, a Microplane zester costs less than $10 and is an indispensable tool for making limoncello.
Many people get along without the liquor filtration step but I think it produces better results. Believe it or not, you can go crazy with this step and spend thousands of dollars on filtration. I have a Gray Kangaroo that is purpose built for this type of filtration but a Brita pitcher seems to do exactly the same thing.
I recommend a ladle with a steep angle of the handle because it allows you to get to the bottom of tall jars. I also like mine to have little pour spouts on the sides (less mess).
I use metal or glass rather than plastic whenever possible, so I use a metal funnel. I like one with a wide top and the spout needs to fit into the opening of a standard 750ml liquor bottle.
Those are the tools of the trade. We are halfway through the email course on making limoncello! There are 3 more modules on the way with more tips and tricks coming over the next few days.
Next up is a module on the one issue that drives more questions to my inbox than any other, how to get the proportions of sugar, water and liquor just right.
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Hello again my friend,
I won't keep you in suspense, it's messing up the liquor/sugar/water proportions in your limoncello. But first, congrats on making it over halfway through the course! If you missed the previous modules on selecting lemons and liquor and employing the right tools for the job, please go back and read those now. All set? Great, now let's get down to business.
Module 4: Simple Syrup Proportions
By far, I get the most questions via email and Facebook about this one single issue. Either people think they have messed up a batch and want to know how to correct it (see the troubleshooting guide) or they want to craft a batch that is less sweet (never more sweet) than normal. The issues are very diverse actually but the common thread is that the solution boils down (see what I did there?) to getting the proportions correct.
Once you've concocted some simple syrup that you like, making the final product hit a certain alcohol percentage is just a math problem. And it's one that I solved for you with the calculator on my blog. If you use that calculator, all you need to know is your preferred alcohol percentage in the final product. That answer just requires a fun bit of trial and error. The stickier issue (I'm on a roll) is how much sugar to add to the water in creating the simple syrup.
My standard recipe calls for 5 cups of water to 3.5 cups of sugar. If you find this is too sweet, I recommend decreasing the sugar by 10% and trying again. It's a fine balance to strike though, too much alcohol makes it too strong, too much sugar makes it too sweet and too much water dilutes the whole flavor, making it insipid.
Another tip in adjusting proportions is that sugar adds about half its dry volume to the simple syrup. So my standard recipe yields a quantity of 6.75 cups of simple syrup (the 5 cups of water plus 1.75, which is half of the 3.5 cups of sugar).
Here's a bonus tip for you. Another extremely common question I get is "what is that film on top of my limoncello?" It's called "il collarino" by the Italians and it's just residue from the lemons, perfectly safe though visually unappealing. At the simple syrup stage you can virtually eliminate this film by allowing the simple syrup to completely cool to room temperature before adding the infused alcohol. I learned this trick from the guys at Fabrizia.
There are 2 more emails with more tips and tricks on the way. Stay tuned to learn how to test adding other flavors to your limoncello.
This module is another one that is driven by the questions I've
received from readers over the years. Another common question is
"have you ever tried using [insert fruit] instead of lemons?" My
answer is usually yes, I've tried a lot of different fruits and
some are quite delicious. You can also spice things up by adding
small portions of other flavors to your limoncello.
Module 5: Adding Other Flavors
Once you've made a couple batches of limoncello that you like, it's
fun to start experimenting with adding other complimentary flavors.
Leave your own mark on it, so to speak. I once read some career
advice that said to use a special phrase that is associated only with
you, like "bullseye." The idea being that later you could work it into
conversations and say "that's a bullseye idea" to mark it as your own
without being overt. I think most co-workers are too smart for that
and would call you a "tool." But with limoncello, it can really work!
One of my favorites is to add some pineapple. I cut up about a
third of a very ripe pineapple and infuse it with the normal lemon
mixture. You can tell a pineapple is ripe if the innermost leaves
at the top come out easily when you tug on them. It's a hard thing
to do without the other leaves poking your fingers but I think it's
worth it. Pineapple gives the limoncello a flavor that is more
candy-like but it's otherwise hard to identify the addition. It's a
nice subtle twist.
Another favorite is to add vanilla. Not vanilla extract, but a real
vanilla bean. Scrape the inside out and add half of a vanilla bean
to your next batch. It adds a nice smoothness to the flavor.
You can also experiment with different fruits. I've tested out
didn't care for either but I've heard from many readers who love
using Meyer lemons.
If you want to veer totally away from limoncello, you can use other
fruits entirely. I've had great luck with using the zest of limes and grapefruits
instead of lemons for the infusion. Lime has a mild, delicate
flavor and grapefruit has the flavor you'd expect minus the
tartness of the real fruit. Both are very nice substitutions for
I've also made plenty of Arancello (just like limoncello
but made with oranges) with different varieties of orange like
navel and blood orange. I highly recommend giving that a try as
I've rarely had a batch of Arancello that I disliked.
Only one module left! Many LimoncelloQuest readers make limoncello
for special occasions like weddings or to give as gifts. So the
last module is on making a batch of limoncello beautiful for
A question I've gotten pretty frequently lately is "how many times
should I filter my liquor?" Not the liquor/lemon infusion, mind
you, just the liquor. Prior to adding any lemon zest.
Not everyone is sold on the idea of liquor filtration, and you can
certainly get by without it. However, I found early on that it was
beneficial and I continue to do it. You can see the results of my
initial experiment here:
Since then I've refined my process a bit so that I can answer that
question and my answer is...5 (bet you didn't see that coming).
Filtering more than five times produces no benefit that I can
detect. And to be honest, in the interest of saving time I usually
filter only 4 times.
Many questions have flooded my inbox over time about the scum, film, or otherwise icky substance that collects at the top of limoncello as it rests.
First, let me say this is perfectly normal. It's called "il collarino" and it is so normal that I once tasted a commercial limoncello that had a tag around the neck explaining the substance.
If you shake the bottle, it goes away. Or, at least you can't see it anymore and it's out of sight, out of mind.
I once even had a reader send it off to a lab for analysis! Result? Residual lemon oils and goo, nothing to worry about.
But you CAN AVOID IT ALTOGETHER.
The guys at Fabrizia clued me in to the trick and it's simple. You just allow the simple syrup to cool completely, let it reach room temperature, before adding it to the infused liquor.
This tweak to the process allows you to avoid the scum. Enjoy!