After a few years of working on my homemade limoncello, I think I finally found the best process. It is the combination of quality ingredients and plain old time. And when I say time, I'm talking 4-5 months before you can really enjoy drinking it, but you'll know after two months if you have an exceptional batch on your hands or not!
Here's the actual tools you'll need: citrus zester, large food safe container(s) to hold your alcohol while it is resting, strainer or cheesecloth, large pot, measuring utensils (cups or scale), funnel
6 1/3 cups Everclear (95% alcohol)
14 medium lemons
9 1/2 cups water
2 1/3 lbs sugar
1. Zest lemons to remove the peel but avoid including any of the pith (white layer). Make sure you have quality lemons with fragrant rinds.
2. Combine the lemon zest with the Everclear in a food safe container. Empty liquor bottles including the Everclear's bottle is good for this. You can also find home-brew containers that work well. Store the combined zest and booze in a cool, dark place for a minimum of 2 months (60 Days)! But don't forget to shake the container every few days or so.
3. In a large pot on the stove, heat the water and sugar until fully dissolved. Allow to cool back down to room temperature.
4. Strain the lemon zest from the Everclear. Best to lest the zest continue to drain for about 24 hrs. You'd be surprised at how much liquid continues to come from it. Feel free to toss the zest or find another use for it.
5. Combine the sugar water and Everclear, and mix well. At this point, you can either bottle it into individual bottles or keep it in one or two large containers. I tend to favor fewer large containers but it is up to you. Again, you need to let this mixture rest in a cool, dark place for a minimum of 2 months (60 days). Initially, its going to taste on the cleaner/solvent side but as it rests, it will mellow out considerable.
6. If you didn't bottle your limoncello into manageable sized bottles, you can do so whenever after combining the sugar water with Everclear in Step 5. The best place I've found for glass bottles for your limoncello are the swing top bottles from specialtybottles.com. Great quality and price compared to anything else I've found. You will always want to keep your limoncello in a cool, dark place like a cabinet or basement until it has rested for the 2 months minimum in Part 2.
A few important notes: After you make a few batches, you'll be able to tell right after you combine everything in Step 5 if that batch is going to be great or just good. And you can tell when its ready for you to share with friends based on how smooth its tastes at room temperature. When you want to serve your limoncello, the traditional way and my preference, is to keep a bottle in the freezer and pour 1 oz into a tiny glass like a shot glass, and sip it straight. Ice cold is the way to go for this. The quality of your limoncello is completely dependent on the quality of your lemons and making sure you let it properly rest for a minimum of 2 months in both Part 1 and Part 2. You can let it rest longer in each, but it the gain in doing this just doesn't seem to be that great once you've hit two months each. DO NOT USE Vodka for this even though plenty of other recipes call for it. I have found that you get a cleaner, better taste by using the 95% Everclear plus it extracts the lemon flavor more efficiently than vodka.
Limoncello is a great gift for the holidays and for special occasions! I've done this multiple times and people love it. I use the Italian-made swing bottles from Specialty Bottles, chalkboard stickers from Michaels, and some ribbon and gift tags. BUT you have to plan far in advance to accomplish this because it takes a minimum of 4 months for Part 1 + Part 2. I tend to make a large batch about every 6 months so that I always have it on hand to take a bottle to as a housewarming or birthday gift, or just take to a house or dinner party. It is pretty easy to quickly go through a batch, so I'd suggest making about twice what you plan because if you share it with enough people, they will be asking for more! I have untold numbers of friends who have shared that they drank an entire 8 oz or 17 oz bottle in one sitting between 2 people. They were very drunk at the end, but happy.
Lastly, to make larger batches, just multiple the recipe by however much you want. You can also adjust the alcohol content by adding or reducing the amount of water you use. My initial recipe called for nearly equal water to Everclear but I found that to be far to strong due to people getting wasted off of it extremely quickly and not taking much of the limoncello. It will get so smooth that if you drink it chilled from the freezer, it will not seem like it is anywhere near 38-47% alcohol. My preference after finding out that people have extremely difficulty judging the strength of the limoncello to shoot for roughly 38% alcohol. Also, you can adjust the amount of sugar you use but reducing by 25-50% but I haven't tried that out to figure out my sweetness preference and for the average person. Once I have my results this summer of this little experiment, I'll update this post.
Swing top bottles:
Michael's chalkboard labels:
Gift tag ideas: