Love and Olive Oil

Homemade Limoncello

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

Did you make this recipe?

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 lemon 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.

All images and text © / Love & Olive Oil

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Let us know what you think!
Leave a Comment below or share a photo and tag me 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.

There may be affiliate links in this post. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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143 Comments

  1. made your recipe with blood oranges – froze the juice. after 2 weeks, I strained the juice thru cheese cloth and added one cup to the sugar and 2 cups water. thought it would give it a better color, but it looks like KoolAide. Oh well, give it a few weeks and see if the color changes. friends are waiting for my Arancello – hate to disappoint. I tasted it and only ok. Limoncello is probably better.

  2. great limoncello recipe everybody loved it. used 90 proof vodka. Now can I use the same recipe with blood orange peel?

    • You certainly can! This recipe works with pretty much any kind of citrus. We’ve done grapefruit and it’s lovely!

  3. Thank you for the recipe. I made my first batch of limoncello during the lockdown, it was delicious. The color of the final product was a beautiful bright yellow. I recently started making another batch, but it was more of a dull cloudy yellow. Not sure what went wrong this time. Do you have any experience like that or advice? Thank you! 

    • It’s probably just the lemons, some are just naturally brighter in color and flavor.
      Higher proof alcohols always tend to bring out more color/flavor, my latest batch used 190 proof everclear and it was the best yet.

  4. My husband has been making limoncello and arancello (orange) for years, and is now working on a limecello. He lets the peels soak in Everclear for at least 42 days. When the peels snap like potato chips it’s ready for the next step.

  5. My friend told me about this process of making olive oil at home. It was then that I tried out this recipe and came to understand why she told me I will regret not giving it a try.

  6. I have been using your recipe since 2018.  It is the best!!!!  

  7. This is the real deal

  8. Hi Everyone! I just got done making my first batch of limoncello and arancello (oranges). I used everclear 120 proof. I have seen many people say that after adding the sweetener, the limoncello needs to “mellow” but I’ve yet to come by any explanation as to what is actually going on during the “mellowing” period. Does anyone actually know what’s going on? I took a sip today after it was sitting for about a month and it tastes good but there is a bit of a bite. It seems like people say the “bite” lessens as it “mellows” but how is that possible (i.e. what’s going on to make that happen)?

  9. I have made limoncello many times. When the drink has aged and I am ready to bottle, I add one vanilla bean to each bottle. It makes the taste very smooth.

  10. I make it every year for the holidays and I use 195 proof everclear 😬 
    Most of my family enjoy the extra strength. Comes out bottles as limoncello about 80 proof 

  11. Hi… just curious – I ended up using this recipe – and will bottling this weekend – after washing the bottles with soap and water – do i have to sterize them in boiling water at all?

    • Wash them well with soap and hot water, but the sugar and alcohol content is high enough here that you don’t have to fully sterilize.

  12. I made this recipe using Everclear. Right at first it was very attention getting, with a bite.. As it was stored in the freezer I noticed that the flavor became more mellow with each passing week. The general consensus of my family is that this recipe is excellent! If fact I have started a second batch.

  13. Have you tried steeping whole lemons in the alcohol? I struggle with getting the peel off without any pith and I wonder if using a whole lemon would work, or would the pith flavor leach out?

    • I have not tried it with whole lemons (other than the aforementioned ‘sling’ method which didn’t work for me). The alcohol does permeate the peel pretty deeply though, so you may get some bitterness from the pith.

  14. We make limoncello as Christmas gifts and to use in our Limoncello bundt cake! That recipe uses a boxed Betty Crocker lemon cake mix, small box of lemon pudding, 5 eggs, & equal parts veg oil and limoncello mixed for about 5 min before pouring into the floured bundt pan. It is amazing. SO GOOD. Just don’t overbake – dry is no good. It should have super moist bottom (which becomes top when out of pan) but golden brown edges. Invert into pretty plate and dust with powder sugar before serving. I can’t believe I just gave your our secret recipe!! ACK!

  15. FYI, I made a big batch of limoncello a few years ago. I processed what I needed for Christmas gifts, but had several bottles of Everclear stuffed with lemon peel left over. I sat in the back of a dark closet for 2 years. I finally processed it and it was the best, the smoothest limoncello EVER. My gift recipients were totally blown away. So, my advice is to make extra and leave it be for at least one year, better for 2 years.

  16. In step 2, do you mean to say place lemon zest in the container, or just the zested lemons?

  17. Are you placing lemons or lemon peel/zest in mason container?

    ‘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’

  18. It’s the ouzo effect that makes it cloudy! I had the same thing when using 80 proof vodka vs 192 proof vodka. Got really confused about the cloudiness in the higher proof and totally clear in lower proof

  19. Never. Never. Throw away the peels. They’re perfect for candied lemon 🍋 rinds. Some ppl boil them 2-3 times to get the alcohol out of them. Why  I give a quick strain and start the candying process. 
    Enjoy! 

  20. I bought beautiful giant lemons, overlooking if they were organic. So, I really scrubbed the lemons – hopefully to remove any waxing or surface reside. Hope this works. 

  21. I have had great success with adding 15-20 basil leaves to the vodka and zest. It seems to soften the final product, and adds great aromatics.

  22. I’ve been making limoncello/orangecello for years. You can get results faster, but this is how I’ve settled on best results. A dozen lemons/oranges peeled with no pith put into a glass jar with rubber seal along with 1liter 100 proof vodka (decent stuff you’d drink). Put in a cool dark place for two months shaking gently every few days. After two months remove peels (these are excellent for drink garnishes, just freeze in ziplock) and strain remaining liquid through triple layers of cheesecloth into a clean bowl, then again through a coffee filter, changing filters as needed. This takes some time but results in much cleaner end product. Meanwhile lightly rinse the glass jar. Make a simple syrup with 2C water, 2C sugar over low heat until sugar dissolves but doesn’t boil. Allow to fully cool. Combine syrup and vodka back in glass jar for another two months to fully mellow. It’s a longer process then most call for but the result is worth it. If you taste at 30 days, then at 60 you’ll notice the difference. I’m a lemon person but have been surprised how much we enjoy the orange. Cara Cara oranges work really well for this. 

  23. Can I add lemon juice to the simple syrup for a lemony flavor?

  24. This was such an easy recipe. And so tasty! I can’t wait to try more from your blog.

  25. I’ve made this a couple of times and I use 190 proof everclear.  I find I had to bump the sugar to 1 ¾ cup sugar, otherwise it’s like jet fuel.  A little more sugar was all I needed to make it smooth.  

  26. Hi Lindsay,

    Italy is one of my favorite places to visit, and I always have a Limoncello after dinner when I’m there. I cannot wait to try making it at home! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. :)

  27. I have a meter lemon tree and I made some limoncello with Everclear and some with 100 proof vodka, before I read your recipe.  I made sure to steep the lemon in clean glass containers but I also used distilled water when making my simple syrup.  I did NOT want anything getting in the way of the flavor.
    Today I mixed in the simple syrup so the jury is still out on which is better.  I steeped them both for 25 days.  The Vodka sat in my dark pantry and the Everclear sat in the fridge.  The Everclear is a much brighter yellow color and the Vodka is a darker, slightly orangey color.  Can’t wait to try them!

  28. We followed the recipe and used 190 proof Everclear. How much more water and sugar should we add since your recipe used a weaker alcohol?

  29. You asked for limoncello recipes – I just looked up a limoncello tiramisu recipe (Jamie Oliver). Sounds delicious, but am not going to try it until my homemade limoncello is ready. That is if it isn’t drunk from a glass before hand!.

  30. Wow~~!! Thanks for sharing. By far, this has been the best recipe!.

  31. Hi, I found your blog looking for squid ink pasta. So, I know a bit about making limoncello. The key is the %alcohol to water to sugar ratios (and assuming you are using good lemon zest). I found a recipe online many years ago from a guy handled “mike in malta”. It took some work to figure out the ratios since they have higher proof spirit there than I can get here in California and there was a mixture of imperial and metric units used.
    You must account for the amount of water that is in the booze you are using for extraction.

    Additionally, I wouldn’t use Meyer lemons to make Italian style Limoncello. The real thing is made with “sorrento” lemons which are most definitely lemons and not a citrus hybrid. That being said, i understand that you can make this liqueur with any citrus, but if you want limoncello as you might get it italy, use proper, sour lemons. Lemons from my mom’s tree in San Jose (I don’t know what variety it is- Eureka or Lisbon) makes excellent limoncello that is as good as anything we had in Italy.

    BTW, i use a microplane to remove the zest so that I get no pith. I haven’t made any this year due to Covid and so I haven’t been down to get lemons but if there is interest i can dig out my notes and provide some proportional direction.

  32. Where are you located. I’m in florida have a meyer lemon tree with lemons that grow almost as big as my head. They are falling right out of the tree rotting because i don’t get to them. :(

  33. Are there any fixes for frozen limoncello? My batch turned out like yours frozen in the freezer – is there any way to fix this?

    • You mean cloudy? That’s actually more related to the sugar syrup I believe, and at what temperature it is added. But the limoncello tastes great whether it is clear or cloudy!

  34. How long does this keep after putting in the simple sugar without freezing it?

    • Yes, we don’t freeze most of ours but keep it in the pantry. The only bottle we freeze is the one we’re going to be serving from but our most common use is for limoncello cake. I have never had a bottle go bad. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near a freezer unless it is done and you are chilling it to drink.

  35. Hi, quick question. In the comments you said that the syrup was usually 1:1, but the recipe is 1 1/2 cups sugar to 3 cups water. I did think this was interesting as I’ve been comparing recipes for limoncello, and another recipe used wayyy more sugar than this. This was after I had googled to find out how many grams and ml a cup was as I’m in the UK. Is the recipe correct? Or is it a 1:1 ratio, so would be 3 cups sugar with 3 cups water? I hope you see this as I’m kinda late to the party!

  36. I love limoncello!  I just made a limoncello cheesecake and what a success!!!  I will also use it in any baking recipe that calls for lemon, I add just a teaspoon or tables to give the lemon zest and juice a bigger nudge!  I do this with all my liqueurs in recipes.  I’m just starting the process of making my own limoncello and have seen how I will tweak my recipe.  Wish me luck and thanks for your insight’

  37. This is a great site and very helpful with all the comments!  I have been researching Limoncello as we have been making it, so may have put the cart before the horse, but wanting to take advance of a fresh crop of lemons her in Central CA.  That being said, since we could not get Everclear, I used Vodka.  Also, I read where others put the actual juice along with the alcohol and rinds to soak.  That made it necessary to put in more sugar water to soften the tart taste, which affected the alcohol content in the limoncello.  I think it is a complete fail, and want to start over again.  It looks like I can find 120 proof Everclear, but not 190 proof.  What is your opinion as to the difference between the two in the final product.  

  38. Thank you for this recipe! I have made it a few times and played with my preferences on the sugar ratio. I also do 1:1 for the simple syrup to make it less watery (and less likely to freeze). Have you found a good use for the leftover rinds?

  39. I learned to make limoncello as a bartender here in northern California. We would steep the finely shaved peels for only a week, sometimes less, with everclear (available here up to 150 proof.) The mixture will remain clear….until you add the simple syrup. I found it very strange to watch the simple syrup color the mixture a lighter, cloudier yellow than what it started out being, and we used cool simple syrup. We would mix in an equal part simple syrup (so now that I am not in restaurants,  750ml is the standard size bottle of hooch, so I mix in 750ml of simple syrup.) 

    Limoncello is very easy to make and delicious. There are lemon trees all over my part of the world, and seemingly nobody picks them. Don’t bother with steeping for the ridiculous 40 to 80 days you read about on the internet. If you want to go crazy, let it sit for two weeks. Also, once mixed and chilled it can be used immediately.

    Thanks for the article!

  40. Hello,
    I made a big batch of limoncellp to bottle for hostess gifts at my daughters shower. With the virus going around, it was postponed to a later unknown date.  My question is can I keep the Lemoncello in glass jars before bottling for a much longer time once I add the simple syrup. Or does it have to be refrigerated.  I don’t have a lot of refrigerator space for storing.  Thank you for your help

  41. I make limoncello on occasion even orange-cello and lime and I’ve grown up always steeping my limoncello for over 5-6 weeks you want the alcohol to pull every bit of essential oil out of the citrus shell and if you have any white in it you are screwed it will give a bitter and nasty taste the best bet is to zest the citrus and place in jar along with alcohol ( I prefer the everclear) with air tight lid under sink for minimum 4 weeks 

  42. Lemon Meringue Martinis are my favourite! 1 Part amaretto, 2 parts Limoncello, 3 parts pineapple juice. Shake and devour! So yummie! Can’t wait to try this Limoncello recipe. Thank you.

  43. Ok I made it but did not put the sugar in it yet. But cant wait to taste.

  44. Hello,

    The recipe says to remove the pilth from the lemons. The pictures show the lemons peels immersed in the alcohol, but the recipe says to cover the lemons with the alcohol, but I didn’t see the meat of the lemons in the jar. I assume the you meant cover the lemon peels with Everclear or vodka. Is my assumption correct?

    Warm regards,
    Sami

  45. Hello, been making limoncello for 20 years now. I use 15 lemons
    to 1 liter of alcohol and infuse for 100 days using Everclear 120-150 proof (for me, there is no substitute). My water to sugar ratio to make simple syrup is 15 cups each as a base and then add more to suit your taste. I prefer the limoncello to be cloudy so I pour a very warm syrup unto the mixture. The result, a sweet, slow burn afterwards. I use a 5 gallon Coleman jug with spigot as I bottle this for Christmas.

  46. I’m in the middle of making my first batches with many variables—types of sweeteners (sugar, agave, coconut sugar etc), plain lemon, lemon lime, lemon lavender buds, but I stumbled on a way to peel the lemons that was so easy, I just have to pass it on.
    Freeze them! Yes! This made the process so easy! The rind comes right off with a vegetable peeler and the pith stays put! 

  47. Hello,
     I was visiting a friend up in New York and she served us lemoncello and Orangecello. 
     Needless to say I had to get the recipe. 
     She steps it for 45 days, then strains it through number four coffee filters, and strains it four times. 
     It came out beautifully when I made it especially the orange cello. I had bought the oranges at Trader Joe’s organic and as I am resisting them I’m telling my husband look at the oil on my hands from these oranges, and it smelled like orange blossoms. Absolutely heavenly 
     So I’m sure that’s the reason the orange cello turned out exceptionally well. 
     My lemon cello was good but I think I need to find a better quality of lemons the more oil in the skin the better 
     Right now I have a batch of Keylimecello going and a batch of lavender lemoncello. They’ll be due in probably two weeks we’ll see how those turn out. 

  48. Do you think you could use the juice from the lemons in place of the water to make the sugar syrup?

  49. I have a story…I actually combined 2 different methods because I think I misread one of them. I made 2 batches using 18 lemons each and 100 proof vodka. I had let it sit for 40 days (this is where I misread) and on the night I was going to do the second step (simple syrup) my house had burned down in the Carr Fire on July 26, 2018. Needless to say it was all very devastating! My house of 32 years, 3 cars, 4 cats, and 2 batches of Limoncello perished. Plus all of the flip top bottles and cutesy packaging I had bought to put the bottles in for gifts. To boost my spirits my husband encouraged me to try again. This time I made it with Everclear 120 and let it sit for 40 days. Then did the simple syrup (4 cups sugar, 5 cups water) and let it sit for another 40 days. FANTASTIC!! I’ve already been given lemons to make it again.

  50. Letting my second batch rest post syrup having been added. It is cloudy although the syrup had cooled. Also, this time I used Everclear after having used vodka the first go-round.

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