One brutally hot summer in Central Pennsylvania, my best friend AJ and I went to a barbecue at his manager’s house not far from Three Mile Island. Her home was set way back in the woods and required a little bit of off-roading to access, and consisted of acres of untouched land attached to a staggering country-style home overflowing with balconies. We sat on the deck just as the sun dipped behind the trees enough to start to give us relief, and Ruth greeted us with glasses of homemade limoncello. It tasted like sunshine kicking you in the face, and we raved about it. I promised myself that I’d make my own limoncello some day and share it with my friends on my own deck.

That was probably 8 years ago. This is my first attempt to recreate what I tasted at Ruth’s house that day.

I did quite a lot of research. I found recipes that were quick, recipes that took more sugar that I could fathom, and recipes that insisted vodka was an acceptable spirit to use. I wanted to do this old school, and I had no desire to rush the process. Ultimately I opted for the traditional 40 day infusion period, but since I was making them for Christmas gifts I had to cut down on the mellowing time. I also chose to use a lower sugar recipe to yield a drier apertif.

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Limoncello

14 organic lemons

1 750 ml bottle Everclear

Simple syrup to taste

Large glass jar, at least 2 liters to be safe

Pretty jars for bottling

Phase 1

First, scrub those lemons.

Now you need to remove the zest. I tried this a few ways before I settled on the microplane. The goal is to get only the yellow bit, as any pith will make your limoncello bitter. Set aside.

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Pour your Everclear into your (immaculately clean) glass jar, add your lemon zest, close the jar, and shake to combine.

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Now hide it. No, seriously. There are a few reasons for this. First, you want the limoncello to hang out in a cool, dark place. Second, if it’s out it’ll drive you insane because the next step major doesn’t take place until 40 days from now. Mark your calendar.

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Every few days, visit your limoncello and give it a shake.

After 40 days is up, you can move onto Phase 2.

Phase 2

First, you’re going to want to strain out all of those bits of zest. You know your limoncello is good and infused when the zest is brittle and white, and the liquor is a stunning golden-yellow.

Different people will tell you different things about sweetening limoncello, but the fact is, all it contains is simple syrup and infused booze, so I say do it to taste. Some people will say you want half simple syrup, half liquor, but I find that entirely too sweet. It’s all up to you. I will say this, though. Make sure you start with at least 3 cups of simple syrup before you taste. Any less than that will be over 100 proof, and you will regret it.

Now you have two choices. You can drink it now, or you can wait for it to mellow. You should wait another 40 days, but you probably won’t I know I didn’t. I gave it three weeks and when it was time to drink, it was juuuust fine.

This batch turned out pretty fantastic, but it was still pretty sweet for me despite the bite of the liquor. Next time I think I’ll dilute the limoncello to about the proof I’m looking for with some spring water, and then add simple syrup to taste.