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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Iannelli-Rubin

When life gives you lemons, make Limoncello!

Limoncello is widely popular throughout Italy! This simple Italian lemon liqueur is produced mainly in Southern Italy and typically served after dinner, chilled. There are some claims that the lemon-flavored liqueur is even a "healthy" beverage, thanks to the natural properties of the lemon. With the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, what a great time to start a new tradition and make a fresh batch, homemade. Made with the zest of lemons, water, alcohol, and sugar, the process is simple. Admittedly, I must now take full responsibility for the boost in immunity and good health of those who have sipped the intense digestive!

Fascinated to learn more about limoncello, I discovered that limoncello is said to have the best quality around the Gulf of Naples known as the Sorrentine Peninsula (aka: the Amalfi coast), & the islands of Procida, Ischia, and Capri. We can thank the Mediterranean climate for this. The lemons in this region grow with a thick skin that is rich with essential oils, fragrance and strong aromas. The lemon's skin is the most important ingredient when making limoncello, so it's no wonder that this liquor is said to have originated in Capri. According to the Federvini website (the Italian Association of Wine/Liqueur Producers) limoncello was first served in the 20th century at a small inn on the island of Capri by an island local, Maria Antonia Farace. After World War II, her grandson opened a restaurant nearby whose specialty was his Nonna's recipe for the lemon liqueur. And then in 1988, the grandson’s son, Massimo Canale, started an artisanal production of limoncello, and registered its mark. Some claim that limoncello goes even further back in time with stories of local fishermen and farmers who, as early as the Middle Ages, used to drink a shot of limoncello in the early morning to warm up. Some also share stories of limoncello existing in a monastic convent where monks would enjoy it in between a prayer. Whatever the origin, limoncello is delicious and gets the blood flowing.

I picked up some good looking, organic lemons from Whole Foods, gave them a nice soak and scrub in a cool bath, and invited our good friends over for dinner! We had a zest & steep night. Zesting them was just peels...literally. We drank, we ate and we zested. The aromas that filled the air were rejuvenating. This experience was ideal for a cold November night. We then steeped all the peels in Everclear (vodka can also be used) so that the oils of the peels could be released. Steeping a fresh batch of limoncello can range anywhere from 4 - 40 days, so we decided to steep the peels for 40 days. After 14 days I got excitedly impatient, and removed the peels from the Everclear after 15 days. I then prepared the simple syrup and mixed it with the resulting yellow liquid, bottled it, and put it in the freezer.

Traditionally limoncello is served well chilled, neat (meaning with no ice), in a chilled cordial glass. Limoncello can also be used in a variety of simple tall drinks to more complex cocktails and martinis. And although it is served in a shot glass, the chilled beverage is meant to be sipped, slowly...enjoying every drop and enhancing digestion.

Whatever, wherever, whenever the story of origin, one thing is for certain...making your own homemade batch of limoncello demands the "right" lemons, the right balance of simple syrup, and the right people leaving you with great memories to look back on.

Saluti e Cento Anni!


Batch 2020 Ingredients (Makes 132 oz)

  • 36 Lemons

  • 1 Bottle of Everclear, 64 oz (1893-ml)

  • 10 1/2 cups water

  • 7 1/2 cups sugar

Batch 2020 had some bite! Almost as potent as the bite that 2020 took out of us, so an appropriate liquor to get digestion moving. I believe I made a mistake and accounted for 30 lemons not 36 when prepared the simple syrup. Those 6 lemon zests equate to the simple syrup shy of an 2 cups of water , 1 1/2 cups sugar. Life is all about mistakes, and learning from them.

**Batch 2020 Ingredients Should Have Been**

  • 36 Lemons

  • 1 Bottle of Everclear, 64oz (1893-ml)

  • 12 1/2 cups water

  • 9 cups sugar



  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use). Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith.

  2. Place the lemon peels in a 8 quart pitcher.

  3. Pour Everclear (or vodka) over the peels and cover with plastic wrap.

  4. Steep the lemon peels in the Everclear (vodka) for 4 - 40 days at room temperature.

  5. Make the Simple Syrup: Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Pour the sugar syrup over the liquor mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

  6. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels.

  7. Transfer the limoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.


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1 Comment

Mar 12, 2021

This was such a great idea and amazing recipe. We invited two of our friends (that are in our trusted bubble up here in Vermont) for a lovely dinner. I asked them to bring peelers. We ate, drank and peeled lemons. Soaked then in 100 proof vodka and waited 40 days. We gathered again to bottle and enjoy this supper yummy, headache-causing spirit (it’s that good). Thank you Michelle!!

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