This liqueur is a house specialty that we make seasonally. The quality of the limoncello depends very much on the quality of the lemons from which the characteristic flavor is derived. In Alaska, good lemons are basically unknown, but we get decent ones in winter (lemon season).
Here is the recipe as I learned it:
1. Add the zest of 15 organic lemons to 2 bottles of 100 proof vodka in a large (1 gal or greater) glass receptacle. Age in cool, dark place for 10-14 days. Stirring isn’t necessary, but a good shake once in a while can’t hurt. Some recipes call for longer aging, but I haven’t found an advantage to going past 14 days.
2. Make simple syrup by combining 5 c sugar and 4 c water. Heat until dissolved, stirring often. I like to boil it a while, but that isn’t necessary.
3. Cool the syrup, then add it to the lemon/vodka mixture. Swirl and return to cool, dark place for 10-40 additional days. It should start cloudy and begin to clarify after maybe 10 days. Once it clarifies, it is ready. I can’t actually tell the differene if it hasn’t clarified completely either- it is good both ways. I think 40 days would be a ridiculous length of time to wait,
4. Strain the mixture. I use a huge coffee filter which clogs up often, so expect to need several filter papers at least. Put the finished Limoncello in bottles, and serve from freezer.
My personal notes and observations:
Get the best lemons you can. Good lemons you should be able to smell across the room. They are never available like that in Fairbanks, but you might find them down there in NJ. When you zest them, make sure to get just the thinnest shaving of yellow off the outside of the lemon. I have a special peeler that shaves very lightly that I reserve for making limoncello. You don’t want any of the white part of the rind in your limoncello because it gives the wrong flavor.
– Use good quality vodka. Cheap vodka will be diluted down and the flavor and sugar will go a long way to masking it, but the solvent character of cheap vodka will come through and taint your final product. You can’t save money on the vodka- it isn’t worth it.
– The recipe above calls for 100 proof vodka. There aren’t a lot of those around. Most (like our Hoarfrost vodka) are 80 proof. I’ll redo the recipe below adjusting for 80 proof, but it might not work exactly. I have had good luck in testing, but am not ready to guarantee the 80 proof recipe is as good as the 100 proof recipe.
– The longer you age the limoncello, the more you risk offensive flavors developing in my opinion. Lemon flavor extracts pretty easily, but some other things might come out slower. I’d be tempted to do step 1 for only 10 days.
– Limoncello stays good a long time, but keep it in the dark (like a cupboard) to slow the degradation of the lemon extract. Try to make it in amounts that you will use in 6 months or less. I have kept it over a year, but it really is better fresher.
Same recipe adapted to 80 proof vodka
1. Add the zest of 15 organic lemons to 2 liters [two and two thirds bottles] of 80 proof vodka in a large (1 gal or greater) glass receptacle. Age in cool, dark place for 14+ days. The concentration of alcohol is much lower with 80 proof, so give it longer to extract flavors. The alcohol is acting as a solvent in this case, and is vital to the extraction process. I think 3 weeks might be a good target.
2. Make simple syrup by combining 5 c sugar and 2 c water. Heat until dissolved, stirring often. This is going to be really thick, but it will dissolve. You have to cut down the water here because the lower proof means you added more in step one and you want the proportions to come out right when you are done. If it seems to be going poorly, you are better off putting semi-dissolved sugar into the lemon/vodka mixture (it will dissolve there, just takes more time) than burning the sugar or caramelizing it.
3. Cool the syrup, then add it to the lemon/vodka mixture. Swirl and return to cool, dark place for 10+ additional days. Since this syrup is heavier, it may take longer to clarify, if at all. It worked for me, but give it a shake from time to time for the first day or two, then let it rest. Once it clarifies, it is identical to the original recipe.
4. Strain the mixture. Put the finished Limoncello in bottles, and serve from freezer.
Lemon Drop Martini
Limoncello is a bit thick and sweet for some. We have a very loyal following of people who drink it straight, If you want to capture that great lemon flavor in a more drinkable form, try this:
- Lightly wet the edge of a chilled martini glass with lemon juice, then dip it in sugar to create a sugared rim. Even better if you add fine lemon zest to the sugar.
- squeeze a twist of lemon rind into the glass. It’ll spray tasty oils all over.
- In a cocktail mixer combine ice, 1.5 oz vodka, 0.5 oz limoncello, 0.5 oz fresh lemon juice, and 0.5 oz simple syrup. Shake hard to mix, then strain into the martini glass. Don’t skimp on the quality of the ingredients.