Limoncello is the perfect liqueur to have around in the summer. There are really no flavors better poised for warm weather than the fresh, bright, sweetened lemony taste of limoncello. When enjoyed on your patio, this drink will instantly transport you back to the cliffs of Cinque Terre—where, if you’re lucky enough to pass a lemon grove at the end of your hike, you might just encounter a farmstand selling sips of fresh-made limoncello.
Limoncello is a particularly versatile liqueur, and not just because it has the power to transport you back to the rooftops of Rome or the beaches of Amalfi on a warm summer night. Limoncello, in addition to being served straight or over ice as an after dinner drink, can be mixed into a martini, served with club soda over crushed ice, or even, for the bold, drizzled over a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a well-made sponge cake.
To recreate the experience of enjoying limoncello on an Italian summer night at home, Franco Bongiovanni, Bar Manager of the Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese, taught us exactly how to make limoncello at home. Follow his recipe, and after the first sip of this liqueur, you'll feel as though you've escaped to former 19th century Roman palazzo the Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese now inhabits. This recipe will make you extra eager to stop in for a drink at Settimo, the hotel's rooftop garden overlooking the city, next time you're in Rome.
What You'll Need
— 500 mL (or 16 fluid ounces) of 90-proof grain alcohol, typically vodka
— 2 ½ cups of water
— 2 ⅛ cups of white sugar
— 10 lemons
For a Villa Borghese Twist, You Can Also Consider These Optional Ingredients
— 1 clove
— 1 cinnamon stick
— 1 to 2 cardamom pods
How to Make Limoncello
1. Start by peeling the skin from each one of your lemons. If you're not sure what kind of lemons to use, just standard lemons (preferably organic) work well. If you want to get fancy, you can also try meyer lemons, or use a couple meyer lemons (maybe two) along with eight standard lemons.
2. In a large, one-quart glass container, combine the 500 mL of grain alcohol with the skin of 10 mid-sized lemons. Seal the container with plastic wrap or an airtight lid.
3. Let the container sit in a cool place for four weeks. Good things come to those who wait.
4. After four weeks, strain the lemon rind from the alcohol mixture. Bongiovanni recommends straining the mixture three times for best results.
5. In a saucepan, combine your sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar crystals have completely dissolved. Let your simple syrup cool fully. Limoncello is traditionally quite sweet. That being said, if you prefer a less sweet flavor, you can reduce the amount of simple syrup you add, or use less sugar to make a less concentrated simple syrup.
6. Add the cooled simple syrup to the alcohol concoction and stir vigorously or shake to combine.
7. Before sealing or corking your limoncello, add any or all of Bongiovanni's optional ingredients. Cardamom pairs especially well with the sweet lemon flavor, while clove and cinnamon work well, but are also suited to arancello (an orange liqueur similar to limoncello).
8. Chill thoroughly before serving.
Corking and Serving Your Homemade Limoncello
For starters, your limoncello should always be served chilled. After you make it, chill for about four hours in the fridge (or expedite by chilling in the freezer) before serving. Serve straight, over ice, or use the limoncello as a mixer when fashioning the perfect lemondrop martini. When serving limoncello after dinner, you can garnish with Bongiovanni's optional ingredients even if you didn't use them to infuse your liqueur. Limoncello over ice with a cocktail pick featuring a candied lemon slice and a cardamom pod presents nicely.
Limoncello should keep well for at least a month in the fridge, or many months if stored in the freezer. The most important thing to remember when bottling limoncello is that it must be stored in an airtight container. You can use a simple canning jar, an old Grey Goose bottle, or a glass wire-lid carafe.