How to Make Limoncello

How to make the classic Italian liqueur at home.


Limoncello is a classic Italian liqueur that has gained popularity with mixologists around the world.

Limoncello is a classic Italian liqueur that has gained popularity with mixologists around the world.

My dad called this week. “Son, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, it’s a beautiful day and your mother and I are out on the porch enjoying limoncello and tonics.” My parents do it right. When the weather is nice, they invoke the time-honored tradition of cocktail hour. In late afternoon, they convene on the deck to relax, share a libation and soak up the day. So what’s the bad news?

“The bad news is...this is the last of our limoncello. Can you help us out with that?”

Limoncello is a classic Italian digestif, served chilled in a small glass or ceramic cup after a meal. This tangy lemon liqueur has been wildly popular in Italy since around 1900 and has enjoyed a surge in worldwide appreciation in recent years not just as a digestif, but as a sweet and sour ingredient for many cocktails.

Making your own limoncello is remarkably easy and it’ll score you big style points when tending bar during your own cocktail hour. I gave my parents a bottle of this homemade elixir a couple of years ago and they return to the well a couple of times a year for a refill, claiming it tastes better than anything they found while traveling through Italy. I suspect the home delivery plays some part in this claim. In any case, what kind of son would I be if I didn’t keep my parents in booze?

On its own, limoncello is pretty sweet, but a couple of shots combined with eight ounces of tonic or seltzer (thank you, sodastream) over ice is darn near perfect for that back porch cocktail hour on a hot summer day.

Mom and dad are coming in for a visit this week and the limoncello is ready to go. Cocktail hour happens less frequently here than at my folks’ place, but when in Rome...or Raleigh.


  • 20 unwaxed lemons (organic, if possible)
  • 1 quart vodka
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 ½ cups water

Wash lemons and peel or plane the zest, taking as little pith as possible (We only want the zest. Naked lemons may be reserved for other purposes).

Place zest and vodka in a sterile container and seal airtight.

Allow zest to steep in vodka for 3 days.

In a saucepan, dissolve sugar in water and bring to a boil 3 minutes to set, then allow to cool.

Strain lemon peels from vodka.

Combine sugar syrup and vodka in a bottle or other airtight container.

Limoncello may be served immediately or stored up to 4 months. 

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