A taste truly representative of Italy, limoncello is a deliciously refreshing lemon drink that fits into the cultural landscape of Southern Italy as comfortably as Baroque churches and breathtaking coastal views. Recent decades have seen a rise in limoncello’s popularity around the world, as well as a greater interest in using it in the most creative ways. The origins of the citrus liqueur are slightly unclear, though it’s thought to have come into existence in the early 1900s, and made from the large, sweet lemons grown in the areas around Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. It was possibly a gift of honour made by local women, a little tipple after prayers for monks, or a warming drink for fishermen – this depends on which story you believe! In Italy, limoncello is often a chilled aperitif or digestif, but it’s also used for added flavour in cakes and ice cream, as well as being a tasty complement to many cocktails and concoctions. Let’s take a look at some of the finest drinks that can be made with Italy’s favourite lemony libation.
Bacio del Limone – In Italian, the ‘lemon kiss’ is made with four parts sparkling wine to one part limoncello, which are stirred together in a mixing glass, taking care to keep the effervescence. This is then poured over a flute glass of crushed ice and berries – you can use raspberries, blackberries or redcurrants. A light and simple drink with a touch of class.
Lemon Martini – There’s nothing like a good martini, so how about one with a (lemon) twist? Wet the rim of a martini glass with a cut lemon and dip it in sugar, then fill a shaker halfway with ice. Add 60ml of citron vodka, 60ml of limoncello, 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice and 2 tsp of sugar syrup. Shake and then strain into the glass before garnishing with a lemon wheel.
The Paradiso – A complex cocktail that expands on the concept of a Screwdriver. It is made with 45ml of orange vodka, 15ml of limoncello, 15ml of Campari and 30ml of fresh orange juice to a shaker with ice, before shaking and straining into a cocktail glass. Add the final touch with a nice garnish of cranberries on a cocktail stick.
Limoncello Collins – Another old classic with a new lemony lease of life. Place three thin lemon slices to the side of a Collins glass, and add ice. Then pour 60ml of limoncello, 45ml of gin and 60ml of fresh lemon juice into a mixing glass before adding to the collins glass, then fill to the top with club soda. This can be garnished with a sprig of mint.
Stirred Limoncello Sour – If a sour is your classy cocktail of choice, then why not see what limoncello can add to your go-to drink? You can make this with 2 parts bourbon, 1 part limoncello, a dash of orange bitters and angostura, which are all stirred in a shaker until chilled. Strained into a glass and garnish with lemon peel. An alternative is to make a lighter version without the bourbon, adding lemon juice and some sugar syrup to take the edge off.
Limoncello Sunrise – For a tropical summer drink without the tequila, limoncello can act as a refreshing replacement. Fill a glass with ice, add 60ml of limoncello and 90ml of orange juice. Pour in a splash of grenadine, and without stirring it should settle at the bottom of the glass. Garnish with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.
Lemon Highlander – Scotch and limoncello might not be the most obvious combo, but you might be pleasantly surprised! All you need to do for this is pour two parts of your favourite scotch, one part limoncello and one part Drambuie into a glass with ice, stir, and then garnish with a lemon peel.
Devil’s Punch – For those tequila fans, here’s a fruity drink to put you in a party mood. Pour 60ml of tequila, 30ml of limoncello, 30ml of orange liqueur, sugar syrup and a dash of orange juice into a shaker with ice, shake and strain into a highball glass.
If you find yourself enamoured of the lemon liqueur, then why not try making your own? It’s easier than you might expect. You will need lemons of course, preferably organic ones, of which only the peel is needed. You’ll also need some high-proof vodka, or if possible a grain alcohol such as Everclear. Infuse the peels in your alcohol for up to a month (the longer the infusion period, the stronger the flavor), then add sugar syrup to taste. Let the sugar dissolve overnight and then strain the infusion for the unwanted peels. Finito!
It’s a great advantage for any bartender to have a range of tastes and flavours from the far reaches of the globe, as well as a solid knowledge of how they are best used. Adding limoncello to your repertoire is sure to give your drinks an unmistakable tang like no other.