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Making Limoncello at Home

  • Ali G Sep 27, 2011 07:52 PM
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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.

                  2. Personally I have been experimenting with Everclear only so far because I do not want the added flavor of the vodka. I dislike Vodka anyway and find that Everclear has a neutral flavor. If the final is too strong, I think you need to use more water. Actually much limoncello is only 22 proof after it is all mixed. That is a bit higher than wine, but not nearly as high as a spirit or fortified wine. Right now my main concern is the sugar. I'm gradually reducing the sugar in each of my batches until I reach a happier medium. My first batch followed some on-line examples, and they were like lemon syrup. I'm actually wanting a lighter, tarter, more refreshing taste. i'm up to batch 4 now, but I have another 45 days before I "harvest" it for my summer limoncello party.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: alice_rice

                      Welcome to Chowhound,

                      Actually 22 proof is only 11% alcohol, less than most wines and certainly less than most limoncellos, which come out in the low 30's percent wise.

                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        Yep....

                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limoncello --- "31-32% is optimal" -- which would be 62-64 proof.

                        When we were in Italy we were told point-blank to not even consider buying limoncello that was outside the 30-35% range.

                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          I was basing the 22 percent on actual limoncello labels in the wine shop. Of course there is some variation,and even more variation in homemade recipes.

                          1. re: alice_rice

                            l am sorry, you had said 22 proof

                            1. re: alice_rice

                              according to limoncello afficionados, your wine shop isn't carrying the good stuff.

                              This is the most exhaustive source I've seen: http://limoncelloquest.com/ -- the commercial limoncellos he reviews all range from 27-32%

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Well, I've seen and used quite a few kinds. I've drunk the homemade stuff and the bought stuff, and I know there is much variation.

                            2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                              Actually, I misstated. I should have said that the result is about 44 to 45 percent ABV. Thanks. You made me look at the charts again.

                          2. My husband made a fantastic Limoncello with a friend's grandmother's 100 year old Sicilian recipe - but I don't think he's willing to share the details :(

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: GreenDragon

                              Ah, yes, the code of lim-omerta...

                              1. re: GreenDragon

                                I'm sure he won't share. I give generalities, but not specifics. First of all, no one really knows what someone else will like. So the best advice is to start building your own from those willing to put something out there, and then start altering different parts of it to suit your taste. My first batch was good, but practically syrup. The second one was much better, although still too sweet for my taste. My third batch will hopefully be a little tart and moderately sweet. We'll see in 46 days.

                                1. re: alice_rice

                                  I'm confused by this. Why don't people share recipes for limoncello like they do for other things? No one really knows exactly what kind of brownie another person will like either, but they are still willing to share their recipe.

                                  I'd like to try to make my own, but organic lemons are quite expensive here so I want to find a solid recipe that someone makes and really loves to start from so as not to waste $40 worth of lemons!

                                  1. re: tokyopix

                                    Several people have shared some general recipes on the Web. They are all a bit different and none of them written in stone. The fun of it is that it is nothing like cake baking, which is a downright rigid formulation with no accounting for tastes. Otherwise the cake might fall. Limoncello on the other hand is much more forgiving. I am a bit concerned about the recipe at the top of the page, however.

                                    The mixologist is trading the 2 bottles of Everclear or vodka for 1 bottle of Everclear 190 proof and using 4-4.5 cups of water. I would advise, but I don't know the size of the Everclear bottle in question. If the person is using 750 ML, a 1:1 ratio in cups would be another 750 ML, or 3.17 cups of water. The suggestion to add more water than that is okay I suppose, but you don't want to water down too much. The reason mentioned for increasing the amount of water, however, was to reduce sweetness. If I want to reduce sweetness, I reduce the sugar rather than increasing the water.

                                    Again batch size is everything. So if we are talking about a little bottle of Everclear I would obviously use half the sugar I would use for a big, 750 ML bottle. This is the ratio that matters for sweetness. How much sugar for how much liquid? I like the notion of keeping the amount of water to about a 1 to 1 ratio and altering sugar to taste. Most all of the initial recipes I saw or tried looked too sweet for me, so I started reducing it a bit at the outset, first by about 1/2 cup in the first batch and then by about 1/4th cup in future batches. Limoncello is supposed to be sweet, but not syrupy in my books. That is all a matter of taste of course.

                                    1. re: alice_rice

                                      Many thanks. Sadly, Tokyo organic fruit prices take the fun out of experimentation! Also, I get how tweaking works here and not in baking, but that doesn't explain people not sharing the recipe at all. My feeling would be here, have my recipe and tweak it to your heart's content. But I get your point, for sure.

                                      Thanks for the explanation above. I agree I'd rather not just water it down to reduce sweetness b/c you'd water down you lemony goodness, too. I looked at the other limoncello thread and found more recipe sources so I think I'll give one of those a whirl. If my husband doesn't faint at buying over a dozen organic lemons, that is!

                                      Interested to see how your latest batches come out!

                                      1. re: tokyopix

                                        There are several other very long limoncello threads on here that give very detailed instructions.

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/285484

                              2. I agree I used water:sugar (2litres water + 1.25kg white sugar). I think the limoncello should be down to max 30% alcohol or 60 proof.
                                I found even for this mix it was a little bit too sweet and still had a big kick to it.
                                So if it's water:sugar 1:1 and 70-80 proof it would be too too sweet and strong for me