Limoncello - Ted Kane

Of Life and Lemons

We all know the old adage: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Well, life has given us lemons in the form of a wildly productive lemon tree in the backyard of the house we bought a year and a half ago.

They are as tasty as they are abundant, so not only do they get made into lemonade, they have probably led to a doubling of my tea intake and have found there way into another homebrew: limoncello.

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur made from lemon rind, sugar and hard alcohol. Grappa or grain alcohol are the traditional liquors used as the base of the drink, however neither is entirely practical in the state of California--the former can be found, but is not economical, while it is my understanding that the latter may not be legally purchased within our borders. Vodka, on the other hand, is much more easily obtained and a good substitute. The resulting beverage, it should be noted, is going to have a lower alcohol content, but this is no bad thing in my opinion. Limoncello made with grain alcohol is too strong for my palate to drink much of, while the vodka version is mellower and easier to sip as an aperitif.

Without further ado, here is a recipe for limoncello:


8 or 9 lemons.
1 750 ml. bottle of vodka.*
3 cups sugar.
3 cups water.

Peel the rind off the lemons using a carrot peeler or similar device.
You want to use only the yellow skin and not the white pith, as this can add off flavors to the beverage. Place in the bottom of a large, sealable jar and cover with alcohol. The peels should be completely soaked. Place in the closet (or whatever dark shelf space you have) for a couple of weeks, swirling the mix around every once in a while when it occurs to you.

The next step is to make a simple syrup with the sugar and water. I use about an equal quantity of each, bringing the water to boil on the stove and stirring in the sugar until it is thick and good. Let the solution cool down and then strain in the alcohol mixture using a colander to hold back the rinds. I usually put some pressure onto the skins to try and get a couple of last extra drops in there. Stir and pour back into the now empty sealable jar. Put it back in the closet, forget about it for a while, then bottle it after a couple of weeks. I usually put half into a decanter for immediate-term consumption and the reminder into the empty vodka bottle.

*There is some debate about what quality of vodka one should use. I prefer Smirnoff; some say you may as well get something cheap since the flavor of the lemons will be dominant, however I have had too many bad experiences with well and sub-well vodkas to advocate their use under any circumstances. So while I concur that it is a waste of money to buy a premium vodka such as Grey Goose and suggest you find an affordable alternative, I think it is just as important to get a reliably manufactured brand. To me, Smirnoff fits the bill on both counts. I've tried Absolut as well, and too me the flavor difference was negligible.


Bonus recipe--Lemonade:

Juice the fruit leftover from your limoncello. Strain into a measuring cup. Note the amount--let's say it's one cup. Pour that cup into a pitcher. Boil a cup of water. Stir in around a cup of sugar, erring on the low side. Pour still warm into the pitcher. Stir together. Fill pitcher to the top with ice cubes, stick in the refrigerator and drink when it's good and cold.