This year I stumbled upon a couple of Limoncello aficionados who knew of my amaro pursuits. They asked if I’d like to give it a go. So I did. It is truly one of the simplest liqueurs to prepare. It’s very refreshing and is supposed to perform the same digestif function for which amari were originally developed.
I live in the Pacific Northwest where citrus doesn’t usually grow, but I happen to have two lemon trees – a Meyer lemon and what I suspect might be a Bearss lemon, but I’m not sure. These trees winter indoors before the first frost and then move out to our porch in early Spring.
The Meyer lemons are a fairly common indoor variety, but they are fantastically mild with a very fragrant peel. The Bearss lemon is much more sour than the Meyer, but its peel fragrance is intoxicating.
My trees don’t produce that much fruit: maybe 15 lemons per year, and during some years the Meyer lemon stays on vacation.
Anyway, on to Limoncello. The ingredients are very simple:
Neutral spirit alcohol (often vodka)
I usually create quantities based upon the roughly quart-sized mason jars I keep in the house. So the process is very simple
1. Cut the peel from eight to twelve large lemons. Trim as much of the white pith as possible without making them fall apart – about 1/16th of an inch thick…OR use a zester and collect the zest from six to eight lemons (or more). The more oily the lemon rind, the brighter the flavor.
2. Fill a quart-sized mason jar with neutral spirit. I usually use grain alcohol at 95% ABV. Vodka produces some very good results – in some ways a bit more forgiving than grain alcohol.
3. Add the lemon peel and cover. Place in a dark cupboard.
4. Macerate for no more than 4 days if using grain alcohol. If using vodka, you can macerate up to 7 days.
This is very important: you will need to check on your jar every day. Naturally the lemon scent will be faint at first, but after 4 days it should be very fragrant. If the smell is overwhelmingly lemony, STOP! Remove the lemon peel. The spent peel should appear to be almost waxy or plastic-like.
This is especially critical with grain alcohol.
If you leave the lemon peel in solution too long, your fragrant oils will begin to turn and become more unpleasantly pungent. That’s the point of no return! Don’t be greedy with maceration. Lighter flavor can always be remedied with adding fresh peel.
5. Dilute to between 27% and 35% alcohol by volume with a solution of 1 part simple syrup and 3 parts filtered or distilled water. Any more simple syrup and the result may be too sweet.
For a quart-sized mason jar, using 95% grain alcohol, that’s about 24oz of lemon peel and alcohol. To that, add about 14oz of simple syrup and 42oz of distilled water. That should give you a result that’s roughly 28%ABV or 56 proof.
Unlike amaro, limoncello is usually cloudy, so there is no need to spend a lot of time fining or filtering it (other than straining any lemon bits out).