Limoncello. A success story steeped in the richest traditions to produce Italy’s sumptuous version of liquid gold. Although its true origins may never be determined, this traditional lemon liqueur discovered in the coastal regions of Southern Italy is a bright and refreshing indulgence.
What is Limoncello?
Limoncello is a fresh and sweet lemon liqueur made from steeping lemon zest in a grape-based or grain-based rectified spirit (a highly concentrated alcohol) for several weeks until the oils are released and then sweetened with simple sugar syrup. The result is a mouth-filling, velvet-like bittersweet spirit with an explosion of refreshing citrus flavours that are a combination of perfectly balanced sweetness and tangy acidity.
Sometimes also known as ‘Lemoncello’, or ‘Limoncino’, which comes from ‘limone’ - the Italian word for lemons, this silky, lemon liqueur is often served chilled in a small glass as an after-dinner digestive, enjoyed on its own or mixed into cocktails. It can also be used to make a refreshing sorbet or granita. It is best served cold or over ice.
What is special about Limoncello?
In Italy, making Limoncello is a family tradition, over time developing their own secret or favourite recipes to be passed down over several generations. The exact origins of Limoncello are hotly debated, however it is agreed that it is a very traditional Italian liqueur, most commonly made in Southern Italy, around the beautiful region of Campania, particularly in Sorrento, the island of Capri and along the Amalfi coast, where they have the perfect soil and weather conditions for growing the best lemons. It is thought by some that these regions produce the best lemons in all of Italy.
The official line from Federvini (the Italian Association of Wine-Liquor producers) is that the first person to register a Limoncello trademark was an Italian businessman by the name of Massimo Canale, in Sorrento in 1988. Inspiration came from his grandmother Maria Antonia Farace, took care of a small inn on the island of Capri where she maintained luxurious gardens full of lemons and oranges, and developed the liqueur to share with friends, family and guests.
However, the beautiful cities of Amalfi and Sorrento also lay claim to being the birthplace of limoncello and have their own tales to tell. Some in Sorrento claim that at the start of the 20th century, affluent Sorrentine households held competing recipe traditions and would always offer some to their illustrious guests as an aperitif.
In Amalfi , some believe the liquor has even older origins, linked to the original cultivation of lemons in the area, with some claims that Limoncello was used by fishermen and monks during the Middle Ages to warm up on a cold morning or in between prayers.
How is Limoncello Made?
We may never know the complete historical timeline of this classic lemon liqueur, however the secret to its success definitely lies in the quality of its ingredients. Traditionally, Italian Limoncello is made with Femminello St.Teresa lemons - a vibrant variety with incomparable flavour native to the Sorrento Peninsula of Italy, or Sfusato lemons from Amalfi - organically grown with a thick skin rich in fragrant, essential oils, and perfumed aroma. The way they are grown is very similar to an organic lemon, without the use of pesticides and a suitable microclimate, including proximity to the sea and protection from cold winds using traditional organic methods, resulting in a superior quality liqueur. Harvesting and peeling the lemons is usually done by hand between Spring and Summer…a meticulous labour of love.
How strong is the Limoncello alcohol content?
The alcohol content of Limoncello varies, particularly for homemade recipes, however it typically lies in the range between 25% and 30% alcohol. Producers generally aim to counterbalance the alcohol with perfumed aromas, intensity of flavour and balance of sweetness and acidity
How to serve Limoncello
Tightly-held secret family recipes have been handed down over hundreds of years and no two are alike, but there definitely seems to be agreement on the best way to serve it. Traditionally served chilled after a meal as a digestive, in small ceramic glasses, it is now so popular that in some circles it has become a social ritual in place of coffee. At its best when ice-cold, it’s recommended to serve it in small portions, in an elegant shot glass, to avoid it getting too warm. Immediately return the bottle to the fridge or freezer and sip slowly to appreciate the luscious lemon flavour.
How to drink Limoncello
When choosing your favourite glasses for serving Limoncello, there are just a few things to consider. Although it’s traditionally served in ceramic glasses, a clear short shot glass or tall, narrow glass will allow you to fully appreciate the flavour and colour of your Limoncello.
What to mix with Limoncello
Also great as a sweet alternative with dessert, or on ice, thanks to its intense lemon flavour and bittersweet tang, limoncello is also a mixologists choice for summertime cocktail recipes. It can be used as a substitute for a simple syrup or an added touch of sweetness to a classic white spirit such as gin. Try a classic Limoncello Spritz for a refreshing and mouth-watering aperitif, Limoncello Gin Collins or a Limoncello Martini.
Other top tips about Limoncello
There are many variations of Limoncello and other alternative drinks made with local artisanal produce, typically using a similar production process. These include melons for meloncello, strawberries for fragoncello (flavoured with strawberries) and arancello made from oranges. Crema de Limoncello is a limoncello made using milk instead of syrup, which creates a slightly opaque, less alcoholic version of the classic spirit.
Generally lighter than many other digestives, Limoncello isn’t overpoweringly bitter or sweet, with the best Limoncello’s striking the perfect balance between tart and sweet, tangy and refreshing. A tasty alternative to other more bitter and herbal amaro’s.
How long does Limoncello last?
If your bottle of Limoncello has not been opened, it can be stored in a dark cool place for. Once opened it is best served well chilled and can be stored in the fridge but for maximum lemon flavour should be consumed before the taste deteriorates.
Can you keep Limoncello in the freezer?
It is also possible to store some versions of Limoncello with a higher proof alcohol in the freezer. Some suggest storing Limoncello in the fridge, and putting it in the freezer for about an hour before serving.
Find Limoncello at Bass & Flinders Distillery
A refreshing lemon liqueur created from a closely-guarded and highly celebrated Bass & Flinders recipe using zest from the highest quality organic Victorian lemons. Originating from a traditional Italian family recipe, this Australian citrus-flavoured Limoncello liqueur was our very first handcrafted spirit. A perfectly balanced summertime digestive.
Organic, Victorian lemons are hand zested in our distillery and infused with our very own secret ingredient that adds complexity and silky texture to this classic Italian liqueur. Ultimately fresh, our Limoncello strikes the perfect balance between tart and sweet, juicy citrus and tangy acidity, bitter and a little bit twisted.
Bursting with freshness and fragrant citrus, our handcrafted grape-based spirit, still water and sugar infuse together to create a pure, all-natural, refreshing lemon liqueur.
Serving suggestions: Zesty with a touch of sweet and incredibly versatile, this deliciously balanced Limoncello is best served straight from the freezer, over ice or mixed into a summertime cocktail. Try our Raspberry Limoncello Spritz or a refreshing Limoncello Gin Collins.
Our Limoncello is handcrafted from scratch using our Méthode Eau de Vie – the art of distilling wine into spirit - delivering a smoother, fuller, richer flavour for your drinking pleasure.
Bass & Flinders Distillery – Spirit of the Mornington Peninsula.