Meyercello is the name we give to the liquor we make each year, inspired by the Italian liquor called limoncello. Ours is based on meyer lemons and rum.

We do not sell this liquor: it is only available as a gift to our friends.

Meyer lemons grow prolifically around the San Francisco Bay Area. They are believed to be a cross between mandarin orange and lemon.

Less acidic than a lemon, the mandarin flavors are quite pronounced and the flavor is reminiscent of the French sparkling soda "Orangina".

We have been making this liquor for several years, and below you'll find our current "best" recipe for it. If you have any thoughts on anything you read here, send me a note at john@meyercello.com or visit my home page.

      


The back story:

    We have an extremely productive meyer lemon tree in my back yard, and every winter it gives us about 2 lawn-sized garbage cans full of lemons. Most years, no matter how much lemonade we squeeze, freeze and drink over the year, we still only manage to use half the available fruit. We don't like to waste and wanted to find a way to use all this beautiful fruit!

    Bugs and I had tried Lemoncello, and while the citric tang is nice, and hides the (cheap) alcohol flavor, I've been disappointed by commercially available limoncello because I find it tastes industrial. It's more like ab alcoholic lemon syrup than a sophisticated comparable liquor like Cointreau. Could we do something homemade that fresher tasting, with more roundness of flavor and body?

    Three years ago, in February, we tried making our first "meyer lemon cello" (version 1). We only used the peel, as the recipes say to use, and we put them into large bell jars, as entire peels, with the high proof vodka called Everclear.

    That summer, we drained the alcohol out and sweetened it with Trader Joe's turbinado sugar. The end result was very alcoholic (about 80 proof), only had high notes from the lemon (no bitterness or acidicty, since there was no pith or juice included) and we found the Everclear to be gasoline-harsh. There wasn't that much lemon flavor, either, probably because the entire peels don't pack very tightly, which is why the following year we food processed the peels to pack them tigher.

    I tasted several other meyer limoncellos made by friends and found all our homemade batches to be about the same. The standard technique for drinking it, was to store this harsh liquor in the freezer, and drink it ice cold so as to mute the awful achohol flavor. In our version, the turbinado sugar drowned the entire flavor palate in a caramel flavor, and colored the liquid to a brown color that didn't allow any yellowness through, which is the usual color of limoncello.

    The second year, we bought a wide variety of high proof alcohols, namely some brand name high proof vodkas, and also a much greater selection of high proof rums. We juiced all the lemons, after they'd been peeled, using a standard electric circular citrus juicer. Juicing was a mess, because the fruit, now peel-less, didn't hold together and tended to pulverize under the hand pressure on the juicer.

    That summer, we did a "nose test" to see which alcohols' vapors were the least offensive, and then tasted each to check for "smoothness". Our top picks were Gosling's rum, Wray & Nephew rum, and Potter's Rum. 151 proof is the highest level you can buy in California, though I did manage to buy a bottle of 180 proof Polish vodka "under the table" at a specialty liquor shop in Berkeley. All these various high proof alcohols cost between $13 and $18 a bottle over the internet, and as high as $29.95 a bottle over the counter. We conducted our alcohol taste tests on the unsweetened, very high proof early stuff, so that we got a strong hit of alcohol and weren't disguising things with additives.

    This 2nd year (v2 recipe) had the lemon juice added back in, but we didn't highly filter it. The result was better than the first year, because the alcohol was a better quality, and also because the juice added more roundness. However, there was a lot of pith in the juice which made the final liquor a bit unpleasant to drink, and very thick.

    We ended up letting that v2 recipe sit for a few months (pith and all) and then really, really filtering it, until it was clear. It still wasn't that pleasant. However, a year later, we came back to those v2 bottles, and found that the pith had really mellowed, and that the final liquor was now very pleasant, and much closer to what people expect limoncello to be like (it was clear, faintly yellow, mostly top notes, and fairly sweet).

    Our third year (v3 recipe) we stuck just with Gosling's rum (and one batch of Wray & Nephew), and we filtered our juice to remove much of the pith. However, we didn't filter it to clear, we instead let the 2.5 liter bell jars settle and poured out the top 2/rds. There is still some pulp and pith in there, but the color is pleasantly yellow. We also tried sweetening with plain white sugar (yes, the industrially produced stuff) and much prefered it, as the caramel note in the previous versions had made the liquor really heavy and tiring in the mouth. We didn't make lemon simple syrup from the dessicated peels for every batch, because we got lazy, and used plain simple syrup instead. Next year, I plan to not throw out any dessicated lemon peel, and will make all the simple syrup we need with it. I think it'll add a bit more top notes to the final result, which wouldn't be bad as the current version is pretty acidic.

    That's the end of our current "meyercello" story so far.

    In our fourth year, we've met our neighbor down the street who has a very productive untreated orange tree, and we're now trying to make orangecello, using the same recipe.


Bugs & Bucky's Meyercello v3 recipe:

    Late winter:

  1. Harvest a large quantity of home grown meyer lemons.

    1. We've also used grapefruit, and others have told us that other varieties of lemons, oranges and other citrus fruit also work well. We're growing a buddha's hand citrus to try that, but can tell you that kaffir lime does not work.
    2. If you are buying fruit, you must buy untreated fruit: any pesticide will be extracted by the alcohol. The final taste will be both acrid and unhealthy (we've tried it, trust us!).
    3. In Europe there is no such thing as an organic pesticide, and so organic fruits bought in Europe are acceptable. Still, home grown fruit will have more flavor because their peels tend to be thicker.
    4. In the US, "certified organic" has a range of allowed pesticides (including aflatoxin) that you really don't want to be extracting and drinking.
  2. Peel and keep peeling until your hands start to hurt. Invite friends to help. Do not use a zester: use the entire peel. Don't worry about a small amount of pith.
  3. Pulse the peels in a food processor into pieces 3mm to 10mm in size.
  4. Fill multi-liter bell jars with the pulverized peels (we use tall IKEA 2.5 liter jars). Do not pack the peels tightly in the jars but do move them around to get rid of large air gaps.
  5. Fill each bell jar with good quality high proof rum. We have tried a dozen brands and settled on Goslings 151 (slightly spiced) or Wray & Nephew 151 (neutral flavor). Do not use Everclear. Do not use 80 proof alcohol or the final liquor will not be high enough proof and will spoil.
  6. Store the bell jars in your basement, where it's dark and cool.
  7. Buy a low-speed masticating juicer (such as the Omega juicer). Do not use a high speed centrifugal juicer.
  8. Run all the peeled meyer lemon fruit, quartered, through the masticating juicer. The resulting slurry will be fairly thick and white.
  9. Seal this juice air tight in bags (we use a vacuum sealer) and store the juice in a freezer that is under -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 Celsius) to prevent enzymic degradation of the juice.


    At the beginning of summer:

  1. Take the frozen meyer lemon juice out of the freezer to thaw.
  2. Drain each bell jar, peels and all, through your masticating juicer. Put this "high proof peel liquor" aside and also set aside the dessicated peel. Run the dessicated peel through again to extract as much alcohol as possible. The final dessicated peel should feel quite dry.
  3. Make a simple syrup with 1:1 water and white sugar. Bring to a boil, then add the dessicated peel that came out the masticating juicer. Do not use brown sugar, demara sugar or honey: the caramel flavor will be overwhelming: white sugar really is best. Cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Once the simple syrup is cool, run it through the masticating juicer to extract the flavored simple syrup. It should taste like very sweet lemonade.
  5. Combine the "high proof peel liquor" with the meyer lemon fruit juice. We use about a 1:1 ratio and then adjust to taste. You're now at about 70 proof.

    1. Skip this step if you want a traditional tasting limoncello, with a flavor profile based entirely on the peel.
    2. We find that the juice adds complexity and roundness, but is less traditional tasting. We like the result both ways.
    3. You will need less simple syrup at the next step if you omit the lemon juice, and so your end result will be that much more alcoholic.
  6. Sieve this liquor three times. First, through a very coarse sieve, then a finer one, and finally through a gold coffee filter. You'll need to stir a lot: this step takes us about 1h per 2.5 liter container. Ranger Limoncello from Burning Man filters through clean cheese cloth held between two sieves and says the process is much faster. We will be trying this next year!
  7. Sweeten the sieved liquid with the lemon simple syrup. We use about a 1:1 ratio again. You're now at about 35 proof.
  8. We find that the liquor tastes "sweet enough" at some point, but still a bit harsh. Just a little bit more sugar at this point miraculously smoothes out the harshness.
  9. Place this almost-ready-to-drink liquor back into the large bell jars and store in a refrigerator.


    A few weeks later:

  1. More solids will have settled in each of your large bell jars.
  2. Tip the top 2/3rds of each jar into a large bowl to extract the cleaner portion of each bell jar.
  3. Combine the thick, sludgy bottom third remaining from each bell jar and let them once again sit to re-settle, then tip off the best again in a few weeks.
  4. Bottle and label your finished meyercello liquor. We keep ours refrigerated because we light the fresh fruit flavor of the juice, and because we've spent so much time making this we don't want it to spoil.
  5. Variations: we sometimes add a good slug of masticating juicer extracted fresh ginger juice, and call it "Fire Meyer". We have also added some "grapefruit cello" (made from the peel, no juice) and ginger to make a more rounded liquor that we haven't named yet.
  6. Enjoy a few ounces over ice!


A photo journal:


Harvest time. I let the lemons sit in water for a long time to remove anything that might have stuck to the peel.
 
Enlisting your friends to help peel is a good idea. Note the buckets of peels and peeled fruits.
 
Our friend Bob has come over to help but he's doing it wrong!

The bell jar in front of him needs to be much more packed with peel. Note the bell jar to the far left of his elbow is correct and much more tightly packed.

The peels should also be broken up in a food processor and not be as big as this.

In the foreground you can see the Goslings 151 Rum bottle (the good stuff) and Potters 151 (neutral, pretty good).

 
Juicing the peeled fruit using an Omega masticating juicer. Note the color of the finished juice in the bell jar to my left.
 
Extracting all the alcohol from the meyer lemon peels, in the summer after waiting several months to let the peel macerate in the alcohol
 
A 2.5 liter bell jar of combined once-separated sludge. This is after 2 weeks of sitting. It will take a long time for this sludge to settle, but it eventually does.
 
 The final liquor is quite cloudy. The clouds separate after a day in the refrigerator and look dramatic like this. A few shakes will make the liquor look like the photo at the top of this page.
 
The previous year's final bottled result was cloudy and unappetizing. We hadn't filtered through the gold coffee filter nor did we do the final waiting-for-the-sludge-to-settle stage. The end result was much more bitter caused by the remaining pith.
 
The final bottled result this year: success! The cloudy bottle has been sitting a few days whereas the bottle to its right was just shaken. The pleasant golden color is much nicer than the previous year's murky sludge.
 
The final result in a glass.