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Making Limoncello at Home

I'm making limoncello for the first time. There are a lot of recipes online that call for 2 bottles of Everclear or vodka. I used 1 bottle of Everclear 190 proof. I'm wondering if anyone has advice on how much sugar to water I should use when making the simple syrup.

It seems like most recipes get the limoncello down to 70-80 proof. In that case, I'd need 4-4.5 cups of water. A 1:1 ratio seems like it would be too sweet. Any experience here?

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  1. I've made the 'lemon digestif' from the Chow 'make your own digestifs' feature from a while back and it was very good. I used 190 proof spirit compared to their use of 151 proof. I was shocked by the large amount of sugar used (2:1 sugar to water ratio) but followed the recipe anyway.

    I keep it in the freezer and the low temperature seems to bring the alcohol and sweetness into a reasonable balance. Very potent lemon flavor and by my calculation it would be about 38% alcohol. Later I diluted it a with a half a cup of water to bring the proof and sweetness down, but the flavor suffered quite a bit. Still, both are much better than any commercially available limoncellos I've tried.

    1. Ali, there are several dilution calculators on the net if you search. You enter the starting proof the amount, the desired end proof and it will tell you how much water to add to achieve that proof. I would think you want to start with something high in alcohol since it will be diluted by the simple sugar.

      1. Thanks for the replies. I know how to calculate the abv or end proof, I'm just not sure about the ratio of sugar to water.

        For example, if I used the rich simple syrup in the Chow article, I'd be using 2:1 sugar to water. Since I need just over 4 cups of water to bring the proof to 80, I'd be adding almost 8 cups of sugar!!! (excluding any volume added by the sugar).

        Since I started with 190 proof spirit, I'm wondering if I should try something like 2-3 cups of sugar disolved in 4 cups of water. If all else fails, I'll ask the old Italians in the family for their recipe.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Ali G

          No one said you have to add the simple syrup instead of just water. l would dilute the Everclear down to the proofage you like or close, l happen to like it @ 40 proof as a liqueur. Then add simple syrup increasingly until sweetness you are happy with. Can make the syrup very sweet, 1:1 or even a bit under 1:1, so you do not dilute the proofage much when adding the syrup.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            It sounds like you're making a large quantity, why not take 3-4 small samples, sweeten them to different levels, and adjust your recipe to the one that you like best? This is something that is going to work best from trial and error, in my opinion, and everyone has a different threshold for sweetness and alcohol level.

        2. I make limoncello (and orange) all the time. Since I am currently living in Ohio and we have archaic liquor laws I do my limoncello with regular vodka (which is what, 80 proof).

          I combine that with a 1:1 simple syrup (1 cup water: 1 cup sugar) in a 1:1 ratio (1 part syrup to 1 part vodka). Some friends find that even a little too tart but I don't like my limoncello very sweet. Mine is more tart than what I have in Italy but I like it that way.

          So a 1:1 ratio will not be too sweet (with a 1:1 syrup) in my opinion. And in fact you may decide to add more later. I do find letting it all sit at least a week or so after mixing in the syrup helps to mellow the whole thing.

          1. In my experience, using vodka is better than Everclear. Even though Everclear is higher proof and will extract more from the lemon peel, Everclear has a very harsh taste, industrial taste that cannot be gotten rid of by dilution. The resulting limoncello still tastes harsh to me. Whereas with a decent vodka, you can eliminate the harshness and get largely the same lemon flavor, it just takes a bit more patience as extraction will take longer.

            Although in typing this, I just thought of the idea of filtering the Everclear through activated charcoal first, the same old trick as smoothing out cheap vodka..

            16 Replies
            1. re: rlee21

              I do that with my limoncello. I mix a bottle of Everclear and a bottle of high-proof vodka (151? I just grab the bottle by sight, but I don't remember what it is.) While I'm zesting my lemons, I dump the alcohol into a Britta water pitcher and let it go to town. Every time it filters through, I dump it back in again, so it keeps going until I'm ready for it. It could all be in my head, but I swear that it mellows the burn and harsh taste.

              People have mentioned to me of the possibility of toxins leaching out of the plastic into the alcohol, but I'm not worried. Still, I dispose of the filter when I'm done, and only use this pitcher for alcohol.

              FWIW, my initial limoncello recipe came from this site: http://limoncelloquest.com/. Wonderful discussions and techniques. I've tweaked my own recipe to get it how I like it.

              1. re: Ditdah

                Question: the author in the link above suggests using organic lemons but also says you have to scrub them with a veg brush really thoroughly before using. Wouldn't that take all the oils off peel? Isn't that where the flavor of the peel comes from?

                1. re: tokyopix

                  Actually all lemons need scrubbing, but the organic ones less so than the ones that are not, because the nonorganic ones can come with wax on them to preserve them. Those really have to be scrubbed well. Don't tear the skin as you scrub though. I actually use a plastic scrubber, which is flat with little knobs on it. Be sure to rinse them well also because you don't want any soapy flavors near your infusion :))

                  1. re: alice_rice

                    I get that non-organic would need more scrubbing. But, again, doesn't scrubbing any lemon remove the oils and aren't the oils the source of the peels lemon flavor?

                    I didn't realize soap was involved, too. What kind of soap do you use?

                    1. re: tokyopix

                      a little, but not enough to offset the nasty flavors you get from whatever is on the lemons -- dust, pesticides (organic or not, they're there), insect residue, stuff you really don't want to think about.....

                      1. re: tokyopix

                        As for soap, probably you would be better off to buy one of those fruit cleaners. Don't know them by name, but since I rinse mine very, very thoroughly, I am embarrassed a bit to admit, I use dish soap! Someone on this board will probably slime me for that, but I figure we use it on our dishes. Just be sure it's gone before you peel.

                        1. re: alice_rice

                          The fruit and veggie washes have been proven to be useless. I fill a large bowl with a mild dish soap and water, just a little bit of soap, warm not hot water, and just give the citrus a brief run over with my hands and rinse. It doesn't take much. I never use a brush.

                        2. re: tokyopix

                          Many thanks, all! Dawn I can get! So just a light wash if organic, good rinse and I'm good to go. I'm excited to try. I think I have to go the vodka route b/c I haven't seen any Everclear here (not surprisingly) and can't get it back in my home state (PA) either. I'm having a summer themed cocktail party in August so I hope to have this ready for that party. That gives me about 60 days to play with.

                          Again, many thanks!

                          1. re: tokyopix

                            I have *no* idea if it's available in Japan, but in Europe they sell an alcohol at 38-40% that's JUST for preserving fruit and making liqueurs. It's like a weaker Everclear, but I've had good results thus far.

                            Just tossing that out in case it could save you a few bucks.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Thanks - do you know what it's called? They might well import it. Have you used it before?

                              1. re: tokyopix

                                There are a couple of "brands", if you can call it that -- they're the most nondescript, generic looking label I've ever seen -- and it's just called "Alcool pour Fruits" -- (French for "alcohol for fruit").

                                Here's one of the few piccie-links I could find: http://www.proxilivre.fr/liqueurs/206...

                                I used it last year for a plum digestif and an apricot digestif that I made last summer, and they were great -- I haven't tried the limoncello I bottled over the winter, but we're hoping for weather warm enough to break it out!

                                It's used heavily by the French for bottling "drunken fruit" (bottled with alcohol) and for making liqueurs with the gorgeous summer fruits that are so good here.

                              2. re: sunshine842

                                I've never heard of that, but I suppose it would work. Do you also put water in it or not? There is a 151-proof everclear, which I probably will try for my next batch, depending on how these two come out at my Limoncello harvest party.

                                1. re: alice_rice

                                  yes, you still use water with it -- just less, so it controls the alcohol levels.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Actually I'd love to try it. Don't know if it is available in Texas though, and we have very stiff import laws, so I'd have to be able to find it in the stores here. I'll have to look around, probably at the larger liquor stores. Will let you know what I find.

                                    Thanks for the input.

                                    1. re: alice_rice

                                      If you can buy 151 Everclear, I can't imagine why there'd be any restriction on buying what is basically 40% Everclear....I believe it might not be available for export (you see how plain-Jane the label is) - but I don't see why it would be legally restricted.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        It is not a legal restriction. I'm just not sure our stores have it.

                                        Will shop to find.