While searching for a good recipe for Limoncello, I found a lot of conflicting information.  Some recipes use vodka, others use grain alcohol (without specifying the potency, which varies) and others even used rum!  The alcohol-to-water-to-sugar ratios also varied widely, and it made me wonder if people had typos in the recipes, or were just posting a recipe they had never even tasted!

So I started with the premise that grain alcohol will extract the most lemon oil and flavor from lemon zest.  Then I adjusted the water and sugar levels until I had a recipe where I liked the potency and the sweetness balances the tartness of the lemon.  Here's what I've come up with:


3 pounds lemons, preferably organic.
16 oz. grain alcohol, 190 proof (I use Everclear)

  • Wash the lemons thoroughly in warm water, and rinse well.  Remove the zest (only the zest - the yellow part) from the lemons.  Try not to get any of the white pith that's under the yellow zest, because the pith makes the limoncello taste bitter.  
    • I use a Microplane Grater / Zester that I bought here. (This is one of the best under-$10 kitchen tools I have, because I use it for cheese, chocolate, lemon and orange zest, and lots of other things!)
  • Juice the lemons and save 1/2 cup of the juice, covered and refrigerated. Use the rest of the juice to make lemonade!
  • Put the zest into a glass jar, and pour in the grain alcohol.  Seal the jar tightly.  Shake the jar gently to mix.  I used an empty wide-mouth mayonnaise jar for this, but put a piece of plastic wrap under the lid before I closed it, to make sure it was a clean seal.
  • Store at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.
  • Two or three times a day, shake the jar gently to mix things up.  The alcohol will turn a beautiful clear yellow.

On the 3rd day:

4 cups sugar
4 cups (=32 oz.) water
1/2 cup (=4 oz.) lemon juice

  • Combine the sugar and water in a non-reactive saucepan (i.e., stainless steel, or a pan lined with enamel - not aluminum or cast iron).  Heat on the stove until the sugar dissolves completely.
  • Let the sugar mixture cool to room temperature, covered with a lid.
  • When the sugar mixture is cool, pour the lemon mixture through a strainer or sieve into the pan with the sugar and water, add the lemon juice and alcohol.  Or, if your pan isn't big enough to hold everything, combine the liquids in a mixing bowl.
  • Use a funnel to pour the limoncello into decorative bottles.
  • Store in the freezer - it won't freeze.  It should be cold enough to taste in a couple of hours


My latest discovery! Great to make in December, when you see those 5-pound crates of Clementines in the grocery store!

  • Use the recipe for Limoncello above, but put the grain alcohol into a jar and add the zest of the clementines as you eat them, and swirl the jar daily. Juice the last clementine, and save that to add, even though it won't be 1/2 cup.
  • After you add the last citrus zest, wait 2 or 3 days and then add the sugar, water and clementine juice.
  • This turns out more of an orangish-yellow, but not as bright orange as the clementines.  Still really delicious!

I forgot to take a picture before enjoying the last batch!


1 part lemon juice
1 part sugar
4 parts water

For example:
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
4 cups water

  • Heat the sugar and some of the water (in the microwave or on top of the stove), until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the rest of the water, preferably very cold, to bring the temperature down.
  • Add the lemon juice and stir.  I like this with some of the pulp from the lemons in it, too, but that's up to you.