A glass filled with homemade limoncello topped with heavy cream.

This homemade limoncello recipe hails from an Italian friend’s mother, Antonietta. It’s a two-phase process, so you’ll need to plan 3 to 4 days in advance, but the work is mostly hands-off, and the recipe is incredibly simple. Homemade limoncello makes a great gift — it’s such a festive drink to have on hand during the holiday season. Top it with heavy cream and serve it after dinner. Cheers!

How to Make Homemade Limoncello

Phase one:

  1. Peel two pounds organic lemons. This is my favorite peeler for this task.
  2. Place in a Mason jar.
  3. Pour vodka or grain alcohol overtop.
  4. Let sit three to four days, shaking every so often.

Phase two:

  1. Strain out the zest.
  2. Make a simple syrup, and pour it over the zest-infused alcohol.
  3. Bottle it all up, store in the freezer.

How easy is that?

Here’s the play-by-play: First, place the lemon peel in a Mason jar and cover with vodka or grain alcohol.

A large Mason jar filled with lemon zest and Everclear grain alcohol.

After three or four days, the zest will petrify in the alcohol. At this point, strain it out and discard.

A strainer filled with petrified lemon zest over a bowl holding Everclear alcohol.

Make a simple syrup and add to the zest-infused alcohol. When you use grain alcohol, the mixture will glow.

A large bowl filled with simple syrup and lemon-infused grain alcohol.

Funnel the limoncello into glass bottles.

Glass jars filled with homemade limoncello.

If you live in the area, Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany sells these glass jars in a variety of sizes for a little over a dollar a piece:

Tall, narrow glass bottles filled with homemade limoncello.

This is Antonietta, the lovely Italian mother of friends of ours, who taught us how to make this limoncello. (Incidentally, she also taught us how to make prosciutto.)

Antonietta, an Italian woman and excellent cook, sharpening her knife.

This is the cold room of Antonietta’s basement. Prosciutto and capicola hang from the ceiling.

Antonietta standing next to homemade sausage hanging from the ceiling in her basement.
Homemade sausages hanging from the ceiling of Antonietta's basement.

Homemade wine aging in carboys line the perimeter:

Large jugs of homemade wine lining the perimeter of Antonietta's basement.

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2-Phase Homemade Limoncello Recipe

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Note: Vodka or grain alcohol? I have used both. Vodka is less potent, less body warming, and more subtle in flavor than grain alcohol. Both work well, but my preference is vodka. Unfortunately, vodka doesn’t cause the finished limoncello to glow the way grain alcohol does.


  • 2-lbs organic lemons
  • 1 750-ml bottle vodka or grain alcohol
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 ½ cups sugar


  1. Peel lemons with peeler, trying to avoid white pith if possible.
  2. Place the zest in one or two large glass mason jars and pour vodka over top.
  3. Let the zest sit in the vodka for 3 or 4 days shaking every so often. Strain the vodka, which will feel petrified, into a large bowl and discard the zest.
  4. Next, heat the water and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool completely. Add sugar-water mixture to strained vodka. Pour into bottles and store in freezer.
  5. Serve as is or topped with heavy cream.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Steep and Stir
  • Cuisine: Italian