How to make luscious, lemony limoncello from scratch

Three bottles of homemade limoncello with lemons and cocktail glass.

Originating from the Amalfi and Sorrento regions of Italy this intensely lemony aperitif is a seductive, lip-puckering way to see out the summer.

Words and photographs: Sheryl Burson

A few years back, while planning a family trip to Europe, I asked Valeria, an Italian friend living in Auckland, for recommendations on places to visit where ‘Italians’ would go on their summer holiday. I knew we would have been traveling down from Pompeii and towards the southern region on the coast.

She suggested the island of Ischia and we visited this beautiful jewel off the Bay of Naples by ferry for a week of sun, swimming and some of the best food of the entire trip. We also discovered limoncello – an amazing, lemony-sweet sip of heaven and a traditional post-meal tipple.

Some years later, after an evening out with Valeria, when we reminisced about how good the limoncello was in Ischia, she mentioned she had a tea towel bought on the island with a recipe on it. A plan was hatched. We would make our own.


Whether you sip it straight over ice or dilute it with soda to make a spritz, this sweet sensation tastes of southern Italy.


12 small or 6-8 medium-sized organic lemons
2-litre glass jar with airtight lid
750ml pure alcohol (I used Puhoi Organic Distillery 96% ABV food-grade alcohol but a good-quality vodka would also work)
750 grams sugar
750ml water
8 x 200ml glass bottles
8 corks


1. Scrub the lemons well to remove any dirt from the skins.

2. Using a fine peeler, remove the zest in very thin strips; ensure you don’t include any white pith as this will make the drink taste sour. Also avoid using any green area or marked bits of lemon zest.

Use a straight edge peeler to create thin strips of lemon zest.

3. Place strips into a large airtight glass and pour over the alcohol. Leave for at least 4 weeks; the peels will lose their colour and the liquid will take on a vibrant, deep-yellow hue.

Lemon peels soaking in vodka to make limoncello.

The peels at the beginning of the alcohol soak.

4. Decant the mixture into another large container straining off the zest, either through cheesecloth or a fine strainer.

Straining the peel through a fine sieve.

5. Melt the sugar in the water to form a syrup.

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6. Mix together the lemon-flavoured alcohol and the syrup. The yellow liquor will sit on top of the syrup and will need to be stirred to combine.

The liquor will float on top of the syrup before mixing.

7. Decant the limoncello into the glass bottles ready to be corked and leave for at least 3 weeks so the sugar has time to react with the alcohol.

8. Keep the bottles in the freezer and serve ice cold.

Bottles of homemade limoncello ready to be corked with lemons in the foreground.


How to preserve lemons

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