(Meyer) Limoncello at home
I first tasted limoncello in a dingy basement apartment in Portland, during college. A friend’s mother was mixing limoncello and vodka, and I thought it was delicious.
Sweet and syrupy, light and citrus-y. Paired with the clear punch of vodka, limoncello delivered everything a drink needed. It was not our time yet, it turned out, and I didn’t run into it again until I was in Italy, slogging through the bittersweet end of a romance. I met up with the fellow in Rome at the end of my post-college Europe vagabonding, as a final hurrah, and spent most of the time crying and having panic attacks in the catacombs. Fun stuff. The only real bright point (besides accidentally finding Saint Cyril’s tomb, I mean, I am a language nerd through and through) was rediscovering the lemon liqueur that had captivated me 3 years prior.
I spent three or four anxious days in the Eternal City, spending my euros more quickly than was wise on frivolous things like, sitting down while eating, and potato rosemary pizza (It’s POTATOES. On PIZZA. So much win!), thinking all the while “I have to leave 15 bucks to get a bottle of limoncello to take home, and salvage this trip”. On my last day, I finally ventured into a liquor store and picked up a good sized bottle of not-rot-gut limoncello. I gently wrapped it in a paper bag and put it in my trusty travel purse to keep safe while I rode the metro back to my hostel. As I dashed up the stairs to escape the crowds in the metro and the usual attempts at groping, I tripped.
SMASH. Tinkle. Tinkle. Dribble.
I sat down and cried, if I remember right, as my last 15 euros pooled gently on the dirty steps. I don’t blame me.
Zoom forward three or four years… (whoosh), and I start hearing about how easy it is to make limoncello. Did I hear, *make it*? I love making things! As I have a bad habit of making things that I never use (cough lemon pickle cough), this was a perfect situation, much like studying a language when you are already interested in the culture. The inadvisability of the reverse is a hard lesson to learn. Last year, when I moved to the land of lemon trees in people’s yards, I knew it was time to finally give it a go.
I made two batches of limoncello. One of them molded before it was time to add the simple syrup. I was in denial for a few weeks, as the blue flecks of mold seemed to disappear back in when I swirled the jar. It always came back though. You may ask, how does citrus and Everclear mold? I have no fracking clue, but if you know, please do share.
Also, the method I’m going to describe involves putting the zest directly into the liquor. There’s another method in which you suspend the zest over the liquor and let the essence drip down into the liquor, but I didn’t try that, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness.
So, let’s get down to it. Limoncello is nothing but lemon zest, sugar, and the highest-proof, most flavorless liquor that you can find. There is no juice involved. It will take ~ 3 months minimum before you can drink it, so plan ahead. I halved this basic recipe, which I selected out of the plethora of online recipes due to the in-depth extra directions. I doubt I was as careful as that guy, though, because 1) mold, and 2) dude, have you seen his website? He keeps detailed records. I shove things in cupboards.
- 8-9 lemons, Meyer or otherwise, well scrubbed
1 750 ml bottle of Everclear (I used 151) or other high proof grain alcohol
1.75 cups white sugar
2.5 cups water
- A Brita pitcher or something else to filter the liquor with
- A 2 quart jar
- Bottles to hold the finished liquor. Swing top is nice.
Stage 1 – steep
Remove the zest from the lemons. I tried both zesting with a microplane, and using a swivel peeler carefully, avoiding all the pith (which will apparently make your limoncello bitter as all get out). The microplane batch molded. This is not a scientific study as that batch used farmer’s market lemons, while the other batch used a coworker’s homegrown Meyer lemons. Once you’ve done this, do something with the lemons, like juice them and make (Bourbon) lemonade. Try not to microplane your knuckles as it’s hard to get wee droplets of blood out of a pile of zest.
While you’re zesting the lemons, filter the grain alcohol through your Brita four times. This is supposed to improve the taste. I have a pretty insensitive palate, so I think I’d like to do a taste test before fully endorsing this step, but, ahem, 3 months to completion is more experiment than I’m willing to do.
Wash and sanitize the large jar (put it through a dishwasher, dip in boiling water, etc.). Put the zest into the jar and pour the filtered grain alcohol on top. Label the jar with the date and stage of the process, and screw a lid on tight. Put up in a cupboard (key: away from light) and forget about it for 6 weeks. The liquor will leech the color out of the peels, so you can peek from time to time if you’d like to watch the progress.
Stage 2 – add sugar
Make a simple syrup by combining the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot and boiling for five or so minutes. Let the simple syrup cool down completely and then add it to the liquor/peel jar. Swirl it to mix, and let the whole mixture hang out for another 6 weeks. Sob.
Stage 3 – filter & bottle
When it’s finally time, filter the limoncello once or twice, depending on your level of perfectionism, through coffee filters into a clean sanitized vessel. Then pour it into bottles, pop it in the freezer, and wait another 9 months. Ha, just kidding, you can try drinking it after 1 week from bottling. I like it a lot better at the 9 month mark though…
Never said it wasn’t a long game.
Stage 4 – drink
Enjoy a tad with vodka over ice. Or on ice-cream. It’s your call.