DIY Limoncello: Brew your own lemony libation


It’s a hot, humid evening and the sweat is trickling down the back of your bare thighs. You open the freezer door, suddenly shivering in anticipation. Ah, there it is: bright yellow, viscous and cold as ice.

You pull out the limoncello, pour a small glass and savour the sweet taste of Sicilian sunshine bursting on your lips. With visions of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters dancing in your head, the stinking city heat will almost feel tolerable tonight.

Nothing quenches a sultry summer thirst better than this fragrant Italian lemon liqueur, which is traditionally served chilled as an after-dinner digestivo.

A tradition in Southern Italy for at least 100 years, the liqueur has recently begun to woo North Americas. Alas, the quality of the imported brands is variable. Many commercial limoncellos are either sickly sweet or pumped with who-knows-what preservatives.

So weren’t we thrilled to discover a light and luscious, brightly balanced housemade version at La Pentola in Vancouver’s Opus Hotel. Bartender Faustine Ponsonnet has shared her recipe so you too can make it at home.

The recipe is so simple – all it takes is alcohol, lemons, sugar and water. But patience is the secret ingredient. We know the heat is making everyone testy. But trust us. The longer this limoncello steeps, the more delicious it will taste when it finally kisses your lips.


15 lemons
1 750 ml bottle of 100-proof vodka
2 cups sugar
3 cups water

Equipment needed:
Two large jars with lids
Vegetable peeler or microplane grater
Stainless steel funnel filter
Cheesecloth or coffee filter

Part One:
Choose lemons with thick, waxy skins for the best oil content. Use organic lemons, if possible.

Wash thoroughly and slice or zest the topmost layer of the lemon peel with a vegetable peeler or a microplane grater. Avoid the bitter white pith as much as possible.

Part Two:
Use 100-proof vodka such as Smirnoff 57. Lower-proof vodka will end up tasting insipid when diluted with the simple syrup. You can use other white grain alcohols, but the flavour profiles may interfere. Neutral is better.

Pour vodka into a large glass jar with a lid. Add the lemon zest as it is zested. Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature in a cool, dark place (the basement or a kitchen cupboard away from the stove) for 30 days.

If you can’t stand to wait an entire month, you can probably rush the steeping process by shaking the bottle several times a day to loosen the oil from the zest. It will need at least five to seven days. The infusion is ready when the colour is leached out of the peel, the zest turns white and the vodka takes on a rich, yellow lemon hue.

Part Three:
Wait. Be Patient.

Part Four:
Make a basic simple syrup using a 3:2 ratio of water to sugar. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; bring to a gentle boil and continue boiling until the granules are thoroughly dissolved, approximately five to seven minutes. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool.

Part Five:
Double strain the limoncello into a new jar, using a stainless steel funnel filter lined with moistened cheesecloth to remove the zest. (A coffee filter will also work, but the process will be much slower). Don’t throw the zest away. You’re going to use it again. And remember, you are about to double the volume with the simple syrup, so make sure the jar is large enough.

Part Six:
Place the filter and cheesecloth with the spent zest on top of the new jar filled with limoncello. Once the simple syrup is chilled, pour it over the zest into the limoncello, double straining it again. This beautifully aromatic zest has been resting in vodka for 30 days. Might as well squeeze every last drop of goodness from it. This second filter will give your limoncello even more flavour.

Seal the jar tightly, chill and allow the components to marry for a few hours. Pour into a glass. Enjoy. Store in the fridge or freezer.

Related Link: Make Your Own Booze Like A Real Bootlegger

Have you be tried this simple limoncello recipe? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe

Alexandra Gill

Alexandra Gill

Alexandra Gill is the Vancouver Editor at Vv Magazine. The West Coast restaurant critic for the Globe and Mail, she has covered every imaginable topic – from fashion and gossip to arts and business – in her long, illustrious career. She is currently writing a motion picture screenplay and developing a reality television show. Follow her on Twitter @lexxgill.
Alexandra Gill