When Life Gives You Limoncello. . . .

by Gray Cargill on July 11, 2012

Post image for When Life Gives You Limoncello. . . .

One thing you may have heard about Sorrento, a pretty little town on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, is that it is famous for its lemons. On my port day in Naples, I took a small group tour that included a stop in Sorrento. I’m not sure how I expected it would play out. Would we drive by lemon orchards on our way into town? Would the town be permeated with a lemony-fresh scent? Would there be people dressed in lemon costumes waving cheerily to us as we drove into town? (Come on, you know if Sorrento were in the U.S., that would happen. Thankfully, Italy has more class than that.)

What I didn’t expect was to see lemon trees growing right on the main streets in the center of town. And let me tell you, they grow their lemons BIG in Sorrento.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a place like Florida or California that had citrus trees everywhere; where you could have them in your backyard and just go out and grab one whenever you want instead of having to run to the grocery store. How cool would that be? Need a wedge of lemon to squeeze over your fish fillet or into your ice water? Just go grab a lemon from the tree out back. The things I could do if I had free lemons at hand all the time! I’d try out every lemon recipe I could get my hands on–lemon chicken, lemon meringue pie, lemon cake, lemon bars, lemon egg drop soup.

Sorrento Coast

The beautiful coast of Sorrento

Because of its plentiful lemons, one of Sorrento’s most popular exports is limoncello, a liquor made from grain alcohol, lemon peels or โ€œzestโ€, water and sugar (otherwise known as โ€œsimple syrupโ€). I had never tried limoncello before, but some women I met on my cruise were raving about it and spoke excitedly about picking up a couple of bottles to bring home with them. So I looked forward to giving it a try. Except for the alcohol, it sounds sort of like lemonade, doesn’t it?

Yeah, don’t let that fool you.


Sorrento Lemons

Look at the size of those lemons! Wow!

My small tour group stopped for lunch at a cute little restaurant in town before heading out to Positano. After we stuffed ourselves with various pizzas and pasta dishes, the owner brought out complimentary shots of limoncello, which is traditionally served at the end of meals to aid in digestion (thus why it is called a digestif). Got to love that Italian hospitality!


Pretty Sorrento distracted me; I almost missed my chance to try limoncello!

While some others in the group had spent their time in Sorrento sampling limoncello from every shop they passed, I was too busy running around town taking photos to even think of it. So I was very grateful for the opportunity to try it in the restaurant. As I lifted the little shot glass up to my lips, I was expecting a light, citrusy drink.

Instead, it burned like the fire of a thousand suns going down my throat.


What was this? Lemon Pledge in a glass???

I tried my damnedest, but I couldn’t finish even a shot glass of the liquor. As it turns out, limoncello has a pretty high alcohol content. So high, in fact, that you can store it in the freezer and it won’t freeze.

I admit it: I am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. My favorite hard liquor is Jack Daniels, and even that I have to mix with Coke to make it drinkable. I’d be a complete failure as an alcoholic.

But hey, I’m still glad I got to sample this very famous product of Sorrento. That’s why we travel, right? To try new things? I may not have been enamored with the limoncello, but I certainly was with Sorrento; it is such a beautiful town to explore. I would gladly spend a month or more there, wandering its cobblestone streets, staring out at its stunning seascapes, and picking lemons every day.

JoAnn July 28, 2012 at 9:52 am

I visited Sorrento on my frist trip to Italy which is where I first tried limoncello. I always have a bottle in my freezer.

Gray July 28, 2012 at 10:49 am

JoAnn – Clearly you have more fortitude than I do! Do you drink it straight?

JoAnn July 28, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Yes, i do.

Gray July 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm


Tracy Antonioli July 24, 2012 at 11:33 am

I love limoncello! My sister in law had it as a the favor at her wedding and ALL of the bottles were gone by the end of the night. Perhaps this particular variety was just really strong? Or really bad? Do try it again–I definitely never experienced anything burning or pledge-like! Though I love that description. Ha!

Also–great photos!

Gray July 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Thanks, Tracy! I honestly think the limoncello was probably fine. No one else seemed to think it was too strong. I’m just a lightweight when it comes to alcohol.

maq203 July 24, 2012 at 8:48 am

Isn’t Sorrento amazing? Who knew places like that could exist? Limoncello definitely burns on the way down–did you get to sample any chocolates filled with limoncello? Those don’t hurt nearly as much!

Gray July 24, 2012 at 11:30 am

Oooh, limoncello-filled chocolates sound VERY interesting, mag203….

Sabina July 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Interesting insight into Sorrento! I’ve never heard of this drink. One place where I house sat in Australia had a lemon tree in the back yard, and at the base of the mountain outside my front door in Israel there were orange and grapefruit groves, so every day I would go hiking and bring back some fruit with me. It was as awesome as it sounds ๐Ÿ™‚

Gray July 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I wish I had a “like” button for your comment, Sabina! ๐Ÿ™‚

Marsha July 12, 2012 at 7:14 pm

That sounds HORRIBLE! Reminds me of sampling grappa for the first time and discovering it tasted like rubbing alcohol! At least you tried something new and added to the sum of your human experience…although those limoncello meltaway cookies sound really good…can we get Annette to share her recipe? LOL!

Gray July 12, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I guess we’re a couple of lightweights when it comes to booze, Marsha. I agree, Annette–you really need to share your recipe. ๐Ÿ™‚

Janice July 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Ahhh Sorrento – someday I swear I will be back! I tried Limoncello for the first time a few years ago. I enjoyed it , but I thought it was more of a sipping liquor. I sipped – and it took forever! It wasn’t quite as brutal as a straight shot though!!!

Gray July 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Oh it is Janice, and I did sip it, too. I didn’t know what to call the little glass it came in. “Shot glass” seemed like the closest I could think of (although it was actually smaller than that). And yes, even sipping it burned like hell.

EM | Cubicle Throwdown July 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm

What lovely photos! I work at an Italian-style gelateria in Canada and we only use Sorrento lemons for our limone sorbetto. I had no idea about where they came from so I loved reading this, and can hopefully pass on some info to customers now. We also do limoncello shots in the back after crazy busy nights at the shop, and I love your description of the taste as “lemon pledge” ๐Ÿ™‚

Gray July 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Thanks, EM, glad you enjoyed. ๐Ÿ™‚

Annette | Bucket List Journey July 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

I usually take Limoncello and make Limoncello Meltaway cookies or just mixed it with soda water, otherwise it’s a touch strong for me.

Gray July 12, 2012 at 11:58 am

OMG, Annette! I never even thought about how one could use it in recipes! What a great idea. Limoncello cookies…..mmmm. Sounds good.

Gray July 11, 2012 at 11:16 am

Thank you, Jonathan. Have you been to Sorrento?

Jonathan Look, Jr. July 11, 2012 at 10:32 am

Beautiful images of a beautiful place. Nicely done.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: