What’s for drinks: homemade limoncello

Fresh and frosty from the freezer —
lemon slush, to paraphrase Prince.

I’ve been working on this one since January. No joke.

Right around the holidays, one of my co-workers and her husband were discussing the homemade limoncello they gave out as gifts and I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Here’s what it involves: Vodka, lemons, sugar and incredible amounts of patience.

First step, a good vodka. I went with 360 Vodka, in large part because the bottle was resealable and reusable — and, with its swing-top cap, exactly what I imagined limoncello should be served from. Then I peeled about a dozen lemons — using a paring knife and zester, depending on the moment, so I could get only the yellow part of the peel, with none of the bitter pith underneath.

Then I combined them in a big glass jar and waited. Every week or so — whenever I thought about it, really — I’d give the jar a swirl to move and mix up the lemon pieces. This went on for months.

However, I sort of cheated: When Tyra Sanchez had a party about two months ago, I thought it would be a good idea to use part of what was, then, essentially lemon-infused vodka as the base of a few pitcher drinks. So I didn’t end up with the full amount of base liquid for the next step, which is …

Simple syrup. Equal parts water and sugar in a pan, heated until the sugar disappears. Then I let the mixture cool, added it to the jar and — you guessed it — let it sit forever again. Or a month, because I was getting sick of looking at it sitting on the kitchen counter, especially after I’d already tapped it for the party and knew how lemony it was already. (Hats off to Adele and Chris for being patient enough to wait almost a year before they decant it into bottles.)

To decant, I ran the liquid through a strainer — once to remove the heavy solids, and a second time with the strainer lined with cheesecloth to filter out the smaller particles that made the end result look a bit cloudy — and poured it into bottles. Because of the addition of simple syrup, a bottle’s worth of vodka makes more than a bottle’s worth of limoncello, so I found another wire-top bottle at Cost Plus World Market (in the section by the olive oil jars, not with the regular glassware) and divvied the reward up accordingly.

As you might be able to tell in the photo above, my mixture ended up freezing to a slushy consistency, which probably means that I messed up on the vodka/syrup ratio. You’re supposed to be able to store the bottles in the freezer, like vodka, so the limoncello is served delightfully chilled. Mine, however, will require a time-out for de-slushing into a pourable liquid. (The beverage equivalent of a waiting period to buy a handgun, I guess.)

I have just poured out a splash into a glass to sample, and I’m actually in love with the end result: juicy-sweet, crisp with a kick and refreshing — especially on a hot Friday afternoon when I’ve been working on household chores.

I might start my second batch right away — the big jar has already been washed and dried, and Total Wine is just a quick trip away. Maybe this time I’ll make lime-cello … or tangerine-cello, if I can find tangerines. Between this and the prickly pear margaritas I’ll be concocting with the syrup I made earlier this week, it’s going to be a whopper of a weekend. I hope you enjoy yours just as much!

WHAT SAM WORE: 7-15-11
The shirt: Cotton jersey polo, from the Gap outlet store at Anthem.
The shorts: Camouflage shorts by Mossimo, from Target.
(I swear I’ll change pants soon.)
The shoes: “Whirlwind” sneakers by Puma, from the Puma store in New York.

3 responses to “What’s for drinks: homemade limoncello

  1. I am not a drinker, but in Italy I had to try the Limoncello and wine. The Limoncello I couldn’t get into because although I love Lemonheads, which is what it started out tasting like, I don’t like the taste of Nyquil, which is how it ended.

  2. Nyquil? That’s kind of scary sounding. Mine starts off tasting like “I can’t have too much of this, it’s strong” but after the second sip, it’s all lemony goodness. Not as tart as Lemonheads, that’s for sure!

  3. the ones i used to get in italy always had a lemon inside the bottle….if only i had a lemon tree to hang bottles from.

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