History of Limoncello

Limoncello is a traditional liquor of Italy, with competing areas laying claim to its origin, including Sorrentini, Amalfitani, and Capresi. Production began sometime in the 1900s, but the businessman Massimo Canale first trademarked the name “Limoncello” in 1988 (source: Taste of Sorrento).

There are many other competing stories, such as limoncello being used in coastal towns to fight the morning chill, or its use among monks in monasteries to keep them cheerful between prayers. 

Limoncello has been growing in popularity as people begin trying their hands at home-brewing all types of alcohols, from wine and beer to whiskey and kahlua. The beauty of this type is that there are only four ingredients: citrus peels, alcohol, sugar, and water.

It does not depend on a specific type of alcohol, rum will work just as well as vodka. It also can vary between which type of citrus peel you use. The steeping time is typically at minimum one month, but I’ve read up to a year. 

By soaking the peels in the alcohol, you are sucking out all the depth of flavor and aroma from the peel’s essential oils into the liquid. This infusion is what can then bring flavor to other beverages. It is claimed that limoncello as an aperitif before or after a meal is a great digestive aid, and it is also sometimes enjoyed when mixed with champagne.

Typical Recipes

Limoncello is made by soaking the peel only of citrus fruits, most often lemons, in liquor for an amount of time. It is then strained and to it is added sugar dissolved in water. The liquid is then cured a little longer. It is then ready to be drunk as an aperitif or added to cocktails.

According to Discover Italian Foods, the traditional recipe calls for: 13 Sorrento or Amalfi lemons, 2 L good quality alcohol (type not specified), 650 g sugar (2 & 3/4 cups), and 1 L pure water. Soak the peels in the alcohol in a cool, dark place for one month. Filter, then make the syrup by boiling the sugar and water. Mix and store in the freezer.

Keep in mind that all of these recipes calling for limoncello can also use any steeped liquor using citrus peels. You can make this with oranges, lemons, limes, tangelos, or grapefruit. As long as you make sure to only take the peel and not the pithy white inside, you’re good to go!

I decided to start small, and as I only had one gigantic grapefruit, that is what I started with. I scaled back the average recipe and made just one bottle of grapefruitcello.


  • 1 large grapefruit
  • 1 cup plain vodka
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ~time~

Step 1: Peel 1 large grapefruit and place peels in a glass jar. Pour the vodka over it and cover. Let sit in a cool, dark place. Mine only sat for 2 weeks rather than the traditional month or longer.

Step 2: Prepare the simple syrup by mixing the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Strain the liquor to remove the peels. Let syrup cool, then add to the filtered infusion.

Step 3: I’m storing this is the refrigerator for now. It probably won’t last too long!

This made about 150 mL of grapefruitcello. The taster shots were darn good, I can’t wait to mix up some tangy cocktails using this!

Limoncello cocktails

Limoncello can be drunk cold by itself between courses or after meals, you can use it in baking, or it can be added into cocktails for depth of flavor. This post from The Vintage Mixer is right up my alley in determining how to mix a cocktail.

Simply take 1 ounce limoncello, add 2-3 oz any complimentary liquid (juices, club soda, tea), add an additional liquor if you desire (1 oz gin, whiskey, rum), and garnish with something pretty! The website Limoncello Quest also has a massive list of creative drinks which use limoncello. 

I’m going to try a variation on a vodka cranberry and a lemon drop martini. Since I used grapefruit to make the grapefruitcello, I don’t need grapefruit juice. 


  • 1 oz grapefruitcello
  • 1 oz vanilla vodka
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 cup cran-cherry juice (or whatever kind you like & have)
  • Top off with sparkling water

Step 1: I had frozen lime juice cubes so I threw one of those in, as well as some re-freezable ice cubes so it didn’t get watered down. Add 1 shot (1 oz) of the grapefruitcello and 1 shot of vanilla vodka (bought pre-flavored or make your own by adding vanilla beans to plain vodka). Add in about 1/2 cup juice, and top it off with sparkling water.

I added a slice of lime wedge and a pretty stir stick, and my new signature cocktail is complete! Pretty and delicious. And with under 200 calories, about 15 g of sugar, and no fat, you can justify another one!

Have you made any homemade liquors? 

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