Mellow, Yellow, Limoncello
Celebrate Lemon Juice Day today, August 29 – yes, there is such a thing – with Italy’s top citrus export.
When it’s well made, nothing can match its bright flavor of fresh citrus plucked directly from the tree. But when it’s not, it can leave behind a fake aftertaste that’s evocative of floor cleaner. Francesco Amodeo, founder of Don Ciccio & Figli, says true limoncello is all about that perfect balance between sweetness and tartness (not to mention true-to-life lemon flavor). His company, based in Washington, D.C., makes cellos and amari from recipes from his ancestors on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. But whether or not it hails (as it traditionally does) from southern Italy, a great bottle of limoncello, which is made by steeping lemon peels in a spirit and then sweetening it with simple syrup, brings sunshine and happiness, one sip at a time.
Once opened, Amodeo recommends storing limoncello in the refrigerator rather than in the freezer, and says the shelf life of his product is around 20 years. “Chilling it allows the liqueur to express itself at its highest level.” So what’s the sweet spot, temperature-wise? Chris Little, corporate beverage director for Burtons Grill, which operates 12 locations on the East Coast, points out that when it was produced a hundred years ago, “chilled” probably meant in a cool, dark cellar at 50 to 60 degrees. “I love it at this temperature as I find it to be a much more bold, bright flavor,” he says. “The colder you make it, the more you ‘tighten’ it up and you lose the delicious aroma and flavor.” Of course, serving it on the rocks can lower the ABV and the sweetness, making it more accessible to some.
Limoncello can also be a fun cocktail base or moderating component in drinks. Amodeo says it’s versatile with all spirits, but he really likes it with amaro or vermouth. Little says as long as you balance the sweetness, mixing it with gin, vodka, rum and even bourbon works. “It’s a great ingredient in citrus-inspired White Sangrias or in Tom Collins,” he points out. “Muddling fresh blueberries, lemons, and mint, adding limoncello, vodka, cane syrup, and club soda is one of my summertime favorites.” And lemon Italian ice scooped up with a wooden spoon that Chris O’Neill, bar manager of the upcoming Oak + Rowan in Boston enjoyed during his childhood, inspired his most successful limoncello cocktail.
Still, solo is sometimes the best way to go. “I think what makes a great bottle of limoncello is the tradition that goes into it,” declares O’Neill. “If you make a good limoncello, it's a treat on its own.”
Recipe courtesy of Francesco Amodeo, Founder, Don Ciccio & Figli
- 1 oz. Don Ciccio Limoncello
- 1 oz. Don Ciccio Amaro Donna Rosa
- ½ oz. Cocchi Americano
- Thyme sprig, for garnish
- Luxardo Maraschino Cherry, for garnish
Add first three ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice, and stir gently. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice, and garnish with the thyme sprig and cherry.
Recipe courtesy of Lee Carrell, Bar Manager, The Royal, Washington, D.C.
Carrell created this boozy frozen treat to combat DC’s 100-plus-degree heatwave. “Subbing limoncello for gin makes the drink a little softer on the alcohol, and gives you those bright, tangy citrus notes to compliment the bitter and orange flavors from Campari,” he says.
- 1 part Campari
- 1 part Dolin Dry Vermouth
- 1 part Pallini Limoncello
- Orange peel, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a glass. Add shaved ice, mix, add more shaved ice, and garnish with an orange peel.
Recipe courtesy of Damiano Coren, The Café Standard, New York, NY
- 1 ½ oz. Limoncetta di Sorrento
- ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
- ½ oz. ginger syrup
- 2 lemon wedges
- 6 raspberries
- Club soda
Muddle the raspberries and the lemon wedges on the bottom of a Collins glass. Add the rest of the ingredients, add ice, mix well, and top with club soda.
Recipe and image courtesy of Chris O’Neill, Bar Manager, Oak + Rowan, Boston, Massachusetts
Much more complex than the non-alcohol versions found on the Boardwalk at the Jersey Shore, this frozen libation has bubbles, citrus, and the unmistakable flavor of elderflower liqueur. “It’s a nostalgic, refreshing sip that takes me back to summer days past,” O’Neill recalls.
- 1 ½ oz. vodka
- ¾ oz. limoncello (homemade or Luxardo)
- ¼ oz. St. Germain Liqueur
- ½ oz. fresh lemon juice
Add first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake hard until well-chilled. Strain into a Champagne flute and top with Prosecco.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington,, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.