Limoncello. An Italian tradition. Recipes are passed down the generations, cemented in nostalgia. But we have adapted ours over the years, for a more subtle and fresher liquor that makes a stunning aperitivo.
Limoncello is traditionally made with 96% alcohol (also known as “rectified spirit”) because it is a neutral-tasting, high-proof alcohol that allows the flavor and aroma of the lemon zest to come through without being overpowered by the taste of the alcohol. The high alcohol content helps to extract the oils from the lemon zest more effectively, resulting in a more flavorful and aromatic limoncello.
Rectified spirit is still available in Italy. We buy it from the supermarket. If it is not available where you live you can use lower-proof alcohol or vodka, but the final product may have a slightly different taste and aroma.
We pick our lemons from our olive grove. Buy if you buy them be sure to buy unwaxed. Organic is good too.
The original recipe we followed, a family one originating from Naples, used a 50/50 infused alcohol/sugar syrup ratio with 800g of sugar to the litre of water. This made for a strong, throat burning digestivo.
We reduced this to a 3:4 ratio, as well as using less sugar to make it less sticky-sweet. Excellent for making a limoncello spritz, a truly refreshing summer aperitivo.
- 10 Italian lemons (unwaxed)
- 900 ml of 96% alcohol
- 1200 ml of water
- 600 g of sugar
- Wash the lemons thoroughly and remove their zest, being careful not to include the white pith as it is bitter. We use a potato peeler.
- Place the lemon zest in a large jar and pour the alcohol over it. Close the jar tightly and let it rest for at least 10 days in a cool, dark place. Try not to leave it for much longer.
- After the 10 days, prepare the syrup by boiling the water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup cool to room temperature.
- Strain the lemon-infused alcohol through a fine-mesh strainer and mix it with the syrup.
- Bottle the limoncello and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 10 days before serving. But it will keep for much longer.
- Serve the limoncello chilled (or frozen) in small glasses as a digestivo after a meal.
Note: The alcohol percentage can be adjusted by adding more or less water to the syrup, depending on personal preference.
If you need to use vodka you can follow the same recipe though we would switch the proportions of infused alcohol to syrup to at least 50/50, or even 4:3.
The alcohol percentage of the final product will be lower than when using rectified spirit, but the final taste of the limoncello will still be delicious. You can adjust the sweetness and intensity of the limoncello by varying the amount of syrup used, or by adjusting the amount of lemon zest used in the recipe.
To make a limoncello spritz, you will need the following ingredients:
- 1 part limoncello
- 2 parts Prosecco
- Splash of tonic (soda water is often used, but tonic is better for added bitterness)
- Ice cubes
- Lemon slices, for garnish
- Fill a large wine glass with ice cubes.
- Add 1 part limoncello to the glass.
- Carefully pour 2 parts Prosecco over the limoncello. Try not to loose the fizz!
- Add a splash of tonic water to the glass.
- Stir gently to combine.
- Garnish with a slice of lemon and serve immediately.
Note: You can adjust the ratio of limoncello to Prosecco to your taste. If you prefer a sweeter spritz, use more limoncello; if you prefer a drier spritz, use more Prosecco.
For an alternative festive version try our Christmas clemencello.