Homemade Meyer Limoncello and Free Printable Gift Tags

I’ve been working on this recipe since March.

It’s quite hard when you’re working with a seasonal ingredient, and trying to test a recipe that requires long rest periods between steps (and I don’t mean hours, I mean weeks and even months).

The first batch of limoncello I made was less than stellar, with a bit too much of a bitter burn to be palatable. While it was plenty sweet, it had bite. And not just a little nibble either… this stuff had serious fangs.

I almost gave up.

Homemade Meyer Limoncello and Free Printable Gift Tags

But after our Alaskan cruise this spring aboard the Ruby Princess, I was inspired to try again. One night, our friendly and incredibly animated waiter, Peres, served us glasses of their special house-made (er, ship-made?) limoncello. It blew my mind, smooth and perfectly sweet with a luscious lemon flavor and none of the alcoholic burn that my version had. Brenda and I grilled him afterwords as to how it was made, since it was leaps and bounds better than my first attempt. He was more than willing to share their process, which seemed to involve little more than lemons, vodka, and sugar. He didn’t have specifics, of course, but I stored the information in the back of my mind, determined to give it another go once I got back home.

Meyer Lemons for Homemade Limoncello

My mom had sent me the lemons for my first batch (Meyer lemons having a very short season of availability here), but she didn’t have any more ripe ones. And I wanted to be sure I got organic, unsprayed lemons, as any spray or residue on the lemons themselves can impart a bitter flavor to the limoncello, and that was one variable we didn’t want to test. So that pretty much rules out your plain old grocery store lemons. I called up my aunt in California who happens to have a prolific tree in her yard (color me jealous). I tell you, family members with fruit trees are invaluable when you’re a food blogger.

A week or so later a huge box of lemons arrived, “as organic as they get, spiders and all” said the note.

That’s what I call one big box of happy, right there. Well, minus the spiders of course.

I quickly set about zesting and de-pithing and steeping the lemons, dividing up what I had to test as many different variables as I could.

I made some with pure 120-proof grain alcohol (Everclear) and some with 100-proof vodka (slightly higher than the standard 80 proof). I divided each into smaller batches and let them steep for 1, 2, and 4 weeks, respectively, to see how much the flavor would change with time. Each batch got mixed with sugar syrup and then stashed away to mellow for at least 2 weeks before we tasted it (see why this post has been so long in the making?)

I even tried this unusual lemon-hammock method from the New York Times, which—spoiler alert—failed miserably. The only ‘flavor’ that came out of the lemon was absorbed by the cheesecloth, leaving nothing but clear alcohol with no noticeable lemon flavor behind. What a waste.

(Click through to read the rest of my trials in tribulations into the fantastic world of limoncello, and download the FREE printable gift tags while you’re at it!)

How to Make Homemade Limoncello

The final verdict is far from final. Despite having a good gallon of limoncello in the freezer of varying degrees of drinkability, there is still room for improvement. The ultimate goal, of course, is a perfectly smooth and lemony apertif. And this is darn close, though not quite as good as Princess’ version. Being the perfectionist I am, I can’t help but wonder what else can be done to improve it.

In my experimentation, I learned a few things about making homemade limoncello.

– Using Everclear will result in a stronger final product (obviously), pulling out more of the lemon’s essential oils in a shorter amount of time. Of course, you’ll likely need more water and sugar to compensate for the higher alcohol content, so taste and adjust accordingly.

– Everclear also produced a cloudy limoncello (as you can see in the bottled photos above), while the high-proof vodka batch (that I didn’t photograph) was clear. Baffling. I don’t know if the higher alcohol caused this difference, but I’ve also read that adding warm sugar syrup to the strained lemon liquor will produce a cloudy limoncello, while a cooled sugar syrup will remain clear. Not sure how accurate this is, however, as I cooled my sugar syrup completely for both batches.

– Obviously, steeping the lemons for longer resulted in a more pronounced lemon flavor. Although it wasn’t as big of a difference as you might expect, and the 1 week version was still plenty lemony.

– I used Meyer lemons for both of my test batches, typically preferring the slightly orangey flavor to standard lemons. But you can certainly use regular lemons too, just be sure that whatever you use, they are organic and untreated (and if you don’t know, assume they’ve been sprayed or at the very least, waxed). I know, that doesn’t make it easy, but it’s so so so important to the final product.

– Oddly enough, my 4 week vodka batch is frozen solid in the freezer right now, so it never got properly taste-tested. Maybe I effed up my proportions or something. We may never know…

– Regardless of other factors, there is no denying that limoncello improves with time. Even my initial ‘vampire’ version is actually palatable now, nearly 6 months later. The harsh burn of the alcohol fades with time, allowing the pleasant lemon flavor to shine through. In short, patience is key. Don’t rush the ‘cello.

How to Make Homemade Limoncello

Another important factor in making limoncello is removing the peel with as little pith as possible. For me that meant shaving off strips of lemon peel with a vegetable peeler, them coming back in with a pairing knife and delicately shaving off what little of the white inner pith remained. Less pith = less bitterness in the final product.

In her version, Brenda actually zested her lemons with a microplane, which takes off just the outermost layer of zest and would be a perfect solution if your knife skills are less than precise (or your patience was wearing thin). Zested lemon also needs less stepping time due to the total surface area exposed to the alcohol and stuff (oh hey, high school math, nice to see you again).

How to Make Homemade Limoncello

How to Make Homemade Limoncello

The other factor affecting the final product is the ratio of lemon liquor to sugar syrup, and even water to sugar within the sugar syrup. Much of that depends on personal taste, whether you like your limoncello on the sweeter side or not, so adjust as necessary, remembering that the limoncello will mellow over time.

Homemade Meyer Limoncello and Free Printable Gift Tags

I’m most definitely planning to continue refining my process and recipe come Meyer lemon season next year. In the meantime, I’ve got a slew of limoncello stashed in the freezer. Other than sip it, and make jam with it, I’d love to hear your ideas for unique ways to creatively use up my stash!

Homemade Limoncello

Yield: 3 half-liter bottles

Prep Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 months

Ingredients:

  • 12 organic lemons
  • 1000 mL Everclear or 100-proof vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Peel or zest the lemons, taking care to just zest the outermost yellow peel and none of the white pith inside. If necessary, carefully cut off any residual pith with a small pairing knife.
  2. Place lemons in a large glass mason jar or other glass container than can be sealed airtight. Cover with everclear or vodka. Secure lid and place in a cool, dark location for at least 1 week and up to 4 weeks.
  3. When liquor is yellow in color and peel begins to turn white and easily snaps in two pieces when bent, limoncello is done. The longer it steeps the stronger the lemon flavor will be.
  4. Strain limoncello into a clean class jar, discarding lemon peels. If desired, strain the lemon liquor again through a fine mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter. This will remove even more residual solids and result in a smoother final product.
  5. Combine sugar and 3 cups filtered or bottled water in a saucepan set over medium high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool, then pour into jar with lemon liquor. Secure lid and return to your cool, dark location to mellow, at least 2 weeks or more. The longer you let it mellow, the better your final limoncello will be.
  6. Once limoncello has mellowed, use a funnel to divide limoncello among three half-liter glass bottles or equivalent. Chill in the freezer for at least 24 hours before serving.

*Once zested, don’t waste the rest of the lemons! Instead, juice them and make some lemon curd or a giant batch of lemonade, or freeze the juice for later use.

Did you make this recipe?

Let us know what you think!
Leave a Comment or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #loveandoliveoil.

Homemade limoncello makes a great gift, and if you start, like, right now (assuming you can find usable lemons, of course) you still have time to steep and mellow a batch just in time for the holidays.

Homemade Meyer Limoncello and Free Printable Gift Tags

With that in mind, I’ve designed some bold and graphic gift tags to adorn your homemade limoncello. To use, simply print out the PDF file onto some thick white cardstock, cut out the tag shapes, punch a hole in the top, and tie them on to your glass corked bottles (I used the half liter, 375mL size) with some nice black hemp twine. If you can, I recommend having the tags laminated (or at least cover them with a layer of clear packaging tape) so the colors won’t bleed from the condensation off the bottle. You could also print the same label file on weatherproof label paper and adhere them directly to the bottles.

Disclosure: We sailed to Alaska as a guest of Princess Cruises. As always, all opinions written are purely our own. We’re incredibly grateful for opportunities like these that allow us to continue sharing experiences like this with you, so thank you for supporting us and the brands we love.

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58 Comments Leave a Comment »

  1. YUM! Love limoncello! I’m thinking that a boozy Arnold Palmer might be the best drink to finish out the summer!

  2. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Limoncello in Italy! But this I might just have to make so I can then make your Strawberry Limoncello Jam!! 

  3. Well, my introduction to Limoncello was your strawberry jam (and the pectin as well – thank you very much!!). The jam was so awesome, that I had to add some Limoncello to a blackberry-basil jam. Wow!! We have been adding the Limoncello to lemonade and it’s pretty yummy. Now I need more. Will try making it when winter – and lemon season – gets here. Thank you so much for taking the time to share!!

    • Funny that the jam has become a gateway to a love of limoncello. :) Same for me, actually, that jam was the reason I attempted homemade limoncello in the first place! Blackberry-basil jam sounds amazing!

  4. I tried making limoncello once, with Everclear (as is supposed to be traditional). It was really harsh, even after significant aging. Maybe I’ll try my hand using vodka …

    • I know, it makes me wonder if the Italians have some secret not-so-harsh everclear they aren’t telling us about. That stuff is wicked.

  5. I make limoncello every year.  I have found that cheap vodka put through a brita pitcher repeatedly leads to a better result than everclear.  I also take half of it and make creamy limoncello.  Basically this just involves making the simple syrup with milk instead of water.  It is crazy good.  The main key to good limoncello is how long you let the lemons sit in the alcohol.  One year I made mandarin orange and key lime–also good, but I haven’t bothered with it again.

  6. Thank you so much for the great recipe!!  How long will it keep??

    • In the freezer it should keep for a good while, I’d say at least 6 months. It’s alcohol so it won’t go ‘bad’ necessarily, just might lose or develop a bad flavor over time.

  7. I love how you went through all your experiments with lemoncello and since I have a meyer lemon tree, I now know what I’m going to do with my next big harvest!!! This post reminded me of a fun dinner we had in Venice – the owner asked if we wanted an after dinner drink and we said “yes! Lemoncello!!” … and he said “no, Grappa!!” It was quite an evening after that…..

  8. Homemade limoncello is so good! I have a meyer lemon and a standard eureka lemon version in my cupboard right now. So good on a hot summer afternoon!

  9. Sorry, but I call BS on the lemon-hammock method not working. My guess is a less-than-perfect seal, letting the flavor-saturated alcohol fumes escape.

    I have seen this process work in an Italian restaurant I used to manage. The bar manager would do this and let the lemoncello infuse for at least 6 weeks. The idea is a micro still, so to speak. Using 190-proof everclear, the alcohol evaporates to the top of the closed vessel, condenses on the lemons, and collects the essential oils over time. 

    When it is time to remove the lemons, the fruit will be heavily concentrated in alcohol (which also makes the best lemonade EVER!) and completely dry on the outside. This is when you add the simple syrup. The lemoncello WILL become cloudy. Let the lemoncello condition for 4-6 weeks, and when it clears up again, it’s ready for bottling.

    • So here’s what happened… I used a large weck jar with a rubber gasket seal. Put two lemons in a hammock of cheesecloth held in place with the lid. The cheesecloth seemed to absorb all the flavor-saturated alcohol, turning it brown and sticky while the alcohol itself stayed perfectly clear. So maybe it was the seal, or the cheesecloth, or a combination of things, but it definitely didn’t work for me. I guess I’m not sure how else you’d suspend the lemons so this didn’t happen? Can you describe your setup?

    • We used a 3 gallon glass jar and I’d say 5 lbs of lemons. They hung in a single layer of industry-grade cheesecloth over 3-4 liters of everclear (must be 190 proof), and the top was sealed with plastic wrap, basically tied over the cheesecloth. Total aging was close to 3 months, at least. We also did this with oranges (arancello).

  10. Hy, :) i’ m Daniela from Romania
    my family make : cherry brandy, strawberry brandy, any berry brandy, even watermelon brandy, banana brandy etc. – we tried amost every fruit
    We are not alcoholics but we love to have something homemade for our friends birthday 
    I have not tried limoncello but you gave me a good idea !!! :))
    so i think maybe if you let the pitted lemon and pitted zest to stay first with the sugar…
    my husband let the fruits to stay first with the sugar to make the syrup –  in a big glass jar covered and in a place without the sun but worm ( not very worm )
    he let to sit till a month ( or till he is satisfied the flavor) and at list a couple a days he softly blend with a wood spoon 
    and then he strain the contents and pick a few(or many ) fruits that have remained intact for bottles decoration ( with the rest we freeze them and make sometime  the
    ” magic” cakes… :)
    and the last he add the alcohol as long as he likes
    he put them in bottles as sealed as it can
    i hope i could help you , and i hope i will make this lemon liqueur in this winter
    i will tell you !!! :)
     dearly , Daniela :)

  11. Great post! I’ve got a batch that’s been “brewing” on my kitchen counter since last December. It definitely mellows with time. “don’t rush the cello” is right indeed! Thanks for the labels Lindsay! 

  12. love the idea of making limoncello and totally bummed I didn’t find this when I lived at a house with a 100 yr old Meyer lemon tree in Southern California. I wonder if you could use pure organic lemon essential oil.

  13. So I have made limoncello once, with lemons given to me by a friend, from her tree, and it came out pretty darn good.  I used Gabriele Corcos’ (Extra Virgin TV show) recipe… anyway… found your blog post on Pinterest and it made me want to try it again, following your recipe,.  BUT… when I read you have a free printable of your tags!  I can’t even!  That’s what made me click on the link.  Thank you!!!  Okay, now to finish reading the post.  Carry on.

  14. Oh I love homemade limoncello. I never made it on my own though, but this post really makes my fingers itch. I think this will be my weekend project.

  15. Do you bake?  I know I have at least several recipes in my files right now that use Limocello as one of the ingredients.  I would think in many baking recipes the Limocello could be substituted for the liquid such as water or other fruit juices to enhance the flavor.  I wouldn’t swap out something like buttermilk though. That adds a moistness and richness to a cake which I don’t believe Limocello could create.  You make me remember with great sadness the lemons my parents used to bring me from San Diego when they would do their “snowbird” thing there each winter.  Sadly, we ended up having to sell the properties in San Diego and when they do go out they don’t seem to bring any lemons back with them, maybe because they have to fly and aren’t driving the RV. (my mom is afraid for my dad to drive all that way as he is 76 now with a few health issues. They only take the RV on trips closer to home or stay on the east coast).   The lemons were the size of grapefruit, no joke. They weren’t these itty-bitty things you find in supermarkets now.  One year she brought me so many I just had to give some of them away. I put one on each of the desks of the co-workers in my unit.  Some of the ladies actually thought they WERE grapefruit.  After that year, for the ones who were fellow bakers I had to supply at least one a year of those giant lemons when they arrived back here on the east coast in the spring when the folks came home.  I know California is VERY picky about what is brought into the state but what about goes out, is it the same? Can people bring lemons home with them on planes? I don’t really know the answer to that question. I thought about that when you mentioned the spiders on your lemons.  That COULD have been a huge problem if the wrong spiders were sent elsewhere in the country and began breeding.  Lots and lots of folks in California have lemon trees in their backyards. People like you and me need to make some GOOD friends with these folks and help take a lot of those lemons off of their hands. We would be doing them a BIG favor, right?   The price of lemons, not even getting into the Meyer Lemon issue here, get downright more expensive than gold at times even at the big warehouse stores.  As a baker that gets VERY frustrating at times, and expensive.   You have my email address, let me know if you would like any of those recipes.  I believe Ina Garten uses Limocello a good bit when baking. She may be able to help you with some also.  

  16. Hi there- Where is the PDF for the adorable tag?

  17. I make limoncello and love it!  I let the rind (no white stuff!!) of 12 lemons sit in a gallon sized glass jar with a handle of vodka for 30 days. Then add the simple syrup (4C water & 4C sugar, cooled!) and a fifth of vodka. Let it sit for another 10 days. Then I strain it thru coffee filters. I tried the cheesecloth, but I like how clear filtering it thru a coffee filter makes it. It is very smooth and sweet and just perfect chilled on a warm summers day. 

  18. Still have end of the season lemons. 
    Want some more?
    Sal

  19. Do you think this same recipe could be used with other citrus fruits to make things like “lime”cello? 

  20. I think I need the recipe for blackberry-basil jam!

  21. I have my first batch of lemons “steeping” right now! I was just wondering if anyone has tried making this with honey instead of sugar as the sweetener?? I’m tempted to try at least a small portion using honey just to test the results.

    • I have not tried it with honey… it should work technically, although I worry the flavor of the honey would overpower. Limoncello is by nature a very clean lemon flavor, and I think the honey would really change that.

  22. Can’t wait to make some limoncello….wondering if I can half the recipe?  I don’t think I will use that much and I don’t have that many lemons!  Especially since I am going to use some for triple citrus marmalade!   Thanks for sharing your process! 

    • Yes, you can certainly halve the recipe! Although if you have the citrus available it’s the same amount of work either way, and might I add it makes great gifts. :) Enjoy!

  23. Love your blog!  Great tip about how to completely remove pith from lemons.  I use the back of a small paring knife to scrape it off. Easy and fast!  I also leave the lemon peel in the jar after adding simple syrup and drain just before bottling (after the traditional 40 days of infusing).  I figure it can’t be too lemony for me.  Any reason why the peels should be removed before adding the simple syrup?   I too only use Meyer lemons. I like the rich creamy look and texture vs. some store bought clear versions. And like yours, I let the simple mixture cool completely and use grain alcohol.   Looking forward to hearing about your next batches!

    • PS – I use 2 liters of ever clear to 14 lemons (per the recipe I use). .  Not too boozy for me and my tasters!

  24. I’ve done blood orange and satsuma in addition to Meyer lemon…all are delicious.  Yes, they have bite but when we take our girls trip, it comes along and we mix up ‘cello at the bottom of a wine glass (about an 1 /8 – 1/4 of the way up the glass) with Prosecco or Moscato and ice – it is fantastic!

  25. Thank you for your comment on the hammock trick. I was skeptical after reading about it, but considered trying it. I think I’ll stick with steeping. I’m lucky to have a Meyer lemon in a pot that seems incredibly happy, and white quite organic. I’m turning the juice into various goodies such as lemon bars, and can’t wait to taste the limoncello I’m making with the peels. I appreciate you posting your recipe and sharing your results! 

  26. I’m new at limoncello so this is an adventure for me. I’ve never even tasted it but I love love LOVE lemons.

    A local restaurant makes their Long Island Iced Tea with limoncello instead of sweet & sour mix and it is wonderful. Maybe something to go on your ‘to try’ list.

  27. Thanks for the details on homemade limoncello. I love the kitchen science. I’ve been making my own vanilla for years since living in places where it was difficult to buy. So, all your lemon trials and details seem rather familiar; I’m very thankful for them. My friend went to Italy a few years ago and came back with a recipe for limoncello yogurt parfait. I’m thinking of making this for my daughter’s bridal shower this summer. Main ingredients are Greek yogurt, cream cheese, crema limoncello, limoncello, and sugar. We’ll see how it goes. 

  28. I love the glass bottles you used for this recipe! I’m in the midst of making a batch of this right now and getting ready to bottle. I want to ship some out of state to family and I’m wondering if you think that these bottles will work? Do they leak at all? Thank you, and I LOVE the printables! So cute.

    • They are pretty secure, but with pressure/temperature changes in shipping it’s possible they might leak. If you do use these bottles I’d double bag them as well just in case!

  29. My lemoncello came out more of a golden or coppery color. Any ideas as to what happened? Can it still be drinkable?

  30. I want to make your limoncello recipe, it sounds like a fun project. How can I download the fun tags?

    • Thanks! Enter your email in the “Download this FREE Printable!” form within the post and you’ll be able to download the PDF file from there. :)

  31. Having made it in all kinds of configurations over the last 10 years, I Find combining vodka and Everclear the best. Yes, its a matter of patience. I make huge batches as gifts. 2-3 movies worth of peeling, without any pith. 
    I use the juice, freeze it in ice cube trays, and make lemon curd, also for gifts. 

  32. You missed the best part – don’t toss the peels. You can roll them in sugar and use them like candy or decoration. I often run them through my little food processor and have ready made lemon zest in a freezer bag. Give it a try!

  33. “Place lemons in a large glass mason jar or other glass container than can be sealed airtight. Cover with everclear or vodka. ”

    Lemons or the peel?

  34. This is a great recipe – I love how you posted all of test experiments, your tips and results! The labels and bottles are super cute too. :) I just made my first batch, and here are a couple of my notes:
    – I used 100 proof vodka. I can get everclear, but this seems to be a cheaper and less assertive option, especially as far as making gifts is concerned!
    – Avoiding the pith while peeling is super hard!! I found the best way is to just peel the lemon into wide strips the best you can, and scrape off the extra pith with the tip of a spoon. It really comes off very easily, and saves the frustration of trying to peel accurately.
    – The recipe calls for a 2:1 water-sugar ratio (3 cups water to 1.5 cups sugar) for the simple syrup, but I used a 1:1 (1 cup sugar / 1 cup water per liter vodka) because I was worried about my limoncello freezing solid. It is still sweet and has a bit of a bite. As it ages, I imagine it will continue to mellow out more!
    – I did add a warm simple syrup to my infusion, and it resulted in a beautifully cloudy color as seen in the photos above.
    – SAVE YOUR LEMON PEELS PEOPLE!! You can dry them and grind them up and make lemon infused salt / sugar / pepper. Or you can (my personal fav) candy them!! Just boil in a simple syrup til super tender, then toss with sugar. They make a really awesome snack and gift to give with your limoncello! :)
    I’ve got a Meyer Lemon and Orange version in the works, and I am hoping to make a Grapefruit or Blood Orange version soon too! Thanks again for sharing!

  35. Tasted a little before it sits for two weeks and it’s AWESOME! ! Can hardly wait to share it! But did not get the download for the label. Can u send it to my email below?

    Thx!

  36. I filled out the form to download the printable label, but the download link seems to be covered up by your copyright information, which makes it unusable.

  37. Thanks so much! It does work – great label!

  38. Hey, love your blog. I just started my second batch of limoncello and have been scouring for recipes and variant techniques. You mentioned cloudiness. My first batch was super cloudy and I thought this was due to an error on my part although it tasted amazing. Not wanting to repeat this “mistake”, I started looking into how to avoid it. Turns out the cloudiness is actually a desired effect and commercial companies are only able to remove it through the use of a centrifuge(and only to make it look “prettier”). The cloudiness is known as a louche, a spontaneous emulsification of the essential oils extracted from the lemons, aka, you got the good stuff. The lemon oils are dissolved in the alcohol and the introduction of water causes the oils to separate but stay suspended in the alcohol. This only occurs when the limoncello is above a certain abv%. I’m not sure what that abv is but my first batch ended up being around 50% if i’m recalling correctly. I wish I has wrote it down but, for what it’s worth, it was some combination of 100 proof vodka and 190 proof grain alcohol with 4 cups of 1:1 simple syrup. I also zested the lemons with a microplane, 2 weeks sitting before the syrup then filtered with an unbleached coffee filter and 2 weeks after the syrup. The cloudiness came as soon as i added the syrup.

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