The Lemon Kiss


“The Lemon Kiss”


By Brian K. Brecht


Making limoncello has been a fun little Clubchair adventure. The impetus to make it came from my trip to Italy in November of 2003 (More on this adventure coming in future posts).


For approximately 100 years, this popular Italian lemon liqueur has been lovingly produced in southern Italy around the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento lemons having always been one of the primary ingredients. As its popularity has grown to other exotic locales such as Sicily, Sardinia, Mentonin France, and the Maltese island of Gozo, other lemon varieties are being used. The US has seen a rise in commercial producers using California lemons. The recipe I share below uses fresh organic lemons handpicked by me  from my wife’s cousin’s vineyard in Healdsburg, California.


Making limoncello is surprisingly easy. It requires only four ingredients and time. There is no shortage of recipes on-line for making the delicious liqueur, so by all means, look around. Mine is not much different than most, but you will find there are minor variations between recipes. Below is what has worked for me for the last few years.




The main ingredients are as follows:

  1. Lemons – 15-20

  2. Grain Alcohol – (2) 750ml bottles (Everclear)

  3. Water – 5 cups

  4. Sugar – 3-4 cups

So this is where the variations begin. You will find some recipes say to use Vodka. By all means, go for it, if this sounds better to you. As with any recipe, booze or otherwise, do what works to your taste. For me, when I contemplated a beverage that has been around for approximately 100 years, vodka was not what they were serving in Southern Italy.  Also, from what I’ve read, traditional limoncello is made with grain alcohol that’s at least 151 proof.



That’s more than any vodka you’ll find at the local grocery store. To be fair, I have made a version using vodka and found it lacked a certain “punch”. A close friend has called my limoncello the “Lemon Hammer” so clearly we both liked the added kick of the 151.


On to the process.


By far, the most labor-intensive part of limoncello is the zesting of the lemons. This is one step where all the recipes agree. What you’re doing here is ONLY gathering the yellow lemon peel, specifically the oils that reside inside. What you don’t want is any part of the white, or pith. The more white that comes along with the peel, the more bitterness will be added into your Limoncello. This is not a drink in which you want any bitterness.



That said, again, there are variations in methods. Zesting is easy enough if you have a zester. Truthfully, I did not even know what a zester was until I started making limoncello. I’ve used an apple peeler, a cheese grater and a micro-plane. All will work just fine. Using the standard apple peeler or potato peeler will get you large flat peels of the lemon. This, again, will work as long as again you are not getting any of the white pith. For my version I’ve found the micro-plane to be the best method. The shavings of the peel are very fine and expose a great deal of the oil, which is the primary objective.




As a side note, one benefit to making limoncello is that, after the zesting, you have a pile of fresh lemons that will go bad very quickly if you don’t do something with them.

Although it is a bit more work, I took the time to juice all 40 of the lemons and froze the juice. I separated it into 2-cup zip-lock bags, and in the coming weeks, I will be able to take advantage of the fresh lemon juice by making one of my wife’s best recipes for lemon chicken. Also my daughter is asking for fresh lemonade. (When life gives you lemons…) It is definitely worth taking advantage of the by-product and not letting any of the lemon go to waste. Finally, if you are able, add the spent peels to the compost pile. It always feels good to go green if you can.


Back to the beverage. As I mentioned, there is not a lot of effort needed at each step. So for me, as long as I was making one batch, I might as well make a double. It also happens that the lemons we picked were so abundant, I couldn’t let them go to waste. So for many of my photos, just be aware that I’m making a double batch.


So we have zested, peeled or micro-planed our lemons and placed them in a good-sized glass jar.

At this point you are adding the first bottle of Everclear (remember, I am adding two). Let this mixture sit so that the lemon oils (flavor and color) will infuse into the alcohol. Now we come to our next point of contention. I have seen versions that call for wait time as little as 4-5 days, others say wait as long as a month. I have always erred on the longer side, assuming the longer I can have the lemons sitting in the alcohol, the more lemon flavor I will infuse into the Everclear. The batch we’re doing here has been sitting for a solid 30 days.


Now that you have waited patiently for a month, this is your first chance to open your container and get a full whiff of the lemon infusion. It is wonderful! But let us not stop here. Next, we need to add a simple syrup and our second bottle of Everclear. But first we need to filter the lemon zest out of our initial bottle of alcohol.


Another side note: I have, in the past, left the lemons in the alcohol, and then added the next steps on top of that, assuming, that if 30 days of infusion was good, 60 days would be even better. In the research I have done, it seems most, if not all, the lemon oil has soaked out of the peels by now, so leaving it on the peels longer just adds cloudiness to the end product. I have to say I agree. We will filter the mixture at various points during the process but the amount of filtering I needed when leaving the peels past 30 days was much greater. I don’t feel that it added anything to the overall flavor.