This limoncello cocktail is a bright and refreshing spin on a very old classic. The colorful Empress Gin and some naturally rosy coconut water give this drink its glorious pink color.
Limoncello is delicious on its own but underrated in cocktails. The Limoncello Spritz (a mix of limoncello, sparkling wine, and club soda) is a great way to enjoy the sweet and citrusy flavor, but I wanted to take the flavors a step further with this riff on the classic Corpse Reviver No2.
A lemon-forward variation on a classic gin cocktail
The Corpse Reviver No2 combines equal parts of gin, the aromatized wine Lillet Blanc, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. A rinse (or a dash) of the anise-forward spirit absinthe gives the drink depth and complexity. The Corpse Reviver is a fantastic classic, and it also makes a great template for mixing your own cocktails. Anther gin-based variation is my Spring Reviver and it’s even great with mezcal in my Coctel de los Muertos!
Here I’ve used limoncello in place of Cointreau (triple sec). This gives the drink a burst of zesty lemon flavor, and it also increases the acidity a bit. As a result, I’ve added a splash of simple syrup for balance.
Rather than absinthe, the finishing touch here is an ice sphere made from naturally pink coconut water. This gives the drink a smooth mouthfeel and a slightly tropical flavor that increases while you sip. Coconut water ice is an easy to make and fun to use ingredient, but you can skip it and this recipe will still be delicious.
What is limoncello?
Limoncello is a sweet liqueur made with lemon peels, alcohol, and sugar. The process for making limoncello is similar to the citrus syrup oleo saccharum. Rather than lemon juice, it is the oils from the peels that give the liqueur its intense citrus flavor.
The exact history of limoncello isn’t known, but it’s believed to have been created in the early 1900s. According to one popular legend, limoncello was created by a woman in the town of Sorrento who used lemons from her garden to make a homemade liqueur. She shared her recipe with family and friends, and it quickly became popular in the region.
Another theory is that limoncello was created by monks in a monastery near Sorrento. They used lemons from the surrounding area to make a medicinal liqueur that was believed to have digestive and other health benefits.
Regardless of its origins, limoncello became popular in Italy in the mid-20th century and has since become a popular drink around the world. It is often served after meals or used in cocktails like this one.
Some brands use the pith as well as the peels, which lends the drink a more bittersweet flavor. Limoncellos can vary widely in how sweet and how alcoholic they are, but most are in the area of 30% alcohol by volume.
Limoncello is a classic digestif, served chilled, after dinner to aid in digestion. It’s also commonly served with soda water or in a spritz. It’s not hard to make at home, and there are a ton of simple limoncello recipes out there if you want to whip up your own.
Choose a quality limoncello
An all-natural limoncello will give your cocktails the best flavor. Here I’ve used Fabrizia, a local, New Hampshire-made limoncello that was gifted to me. It has bright, fresh lemon flavor, and just the right balance of sweetness and alcoholic strength. Fabrizia is handcrafted and made in small batches with just four simple ingredients.
In addition to their classic Limoncello, they also offer a Blood Orange liqueur and a creamy Limoncello, Crema di Limoncello. The Crema di Limoncello would make an excellent addition to a batch of easy Whipped Lemonade!
Top brands of limoncello
Villa Massa: This Italian limoncello is made from Sorrento lemons and has a smooth, sweet taste with pleasant tartness. It is often considered one of the best limoncello brands on the market.
Pallini: This Italian limoncello is made from organic lemons and has a well-balanced, sweet and sour flavor. They also make a delicious non-alcholic limoncello called LimonZero that’s great in non-alcoholic limoncello spritzes. Mix it with Freixenet Alcohol Removed Sparkling Wine for a delicious spritz without the booze.
Caravella: This Italian limoncello is made from Amalfi Coast lemons and has a smooth, sweet taste with a refreshing tartness. It’s a great choice for a digestif after meals.
Fabrizia: As discussed above, this American limoncello is made from organic lemons and has a sweet, tangy flavor. It is wonderful over ice, in cocktails and it’s a top choice for making limoncello spritzes.
Pink coconut water ice
This secret ingredient really elevates this lemony twist on the Corpse Reviver. To make coconut water ice, all you have to do is freeze some pure coconut water.
I used the Tovolo sphere mold and my favorite pink coconut water, Harmless Harvest. It only takes about 4-6 hours to freeze coconut water in the Tovolo sphere mold. You can also freeze the coconut water into regular cubes if you like, and you can also use a different brand of coconut water if you prefer.
Just make sure it’s a very flavorful, all natural coconut water. I like Harmless Harvest because it’s super sweet and doesn’t have the odd after taste that some overly processed brands do. It also has a gorgeous, natural pink hue that makes this cocktail even more beautiful!
Use Empress Gin for flavor and color
I love Empress Gin. It’s a beautiful spirit that tastes as good as it looks. And since it has a fairly classic flavor profile, it works in a really wide range of drinks, from classics like the Southside to more unusual recipes like my Peach Violet Gin Sour.
Empress Gin is sometimes referred to as “purple gin.” It’s a deep indigo color thanks to one of its botanicals, the butterfly pea flower. Butterfly pea adds color and an earthy flavor, but it’s juniper, grapefruit, and coriander that dominate. Overall, it’s a citrusy gin that works just as well in a classic Gin and Tonic as it does in more modern craft cocktails.
An easy equal parts recipe
To make this cocktail, add equal parts (one ounce) Empress Gin, Lillet Blanc, limoncello, and fresh lemon juice to a cocktail shaker. I like to add a quarter ounce of simple syrup to boost the sweetness of the drink, but it is optional.
Fill the shaker with ice and shake until very cold, then strain the liquid into a large coupe glass filled with pink coconut water ice.
Garnish with an expressed orange twist and a purple edible flower, if desired. I used a purple hosta from my garden. You can learn more about edible flowers for cocktails in my guide.
I used an oversized vintage cocktail glass from Antique Vintage Find. You could also use a rocks glass to accommodate the large ice sphere. The finished drink will be a little different, but you can also serve the Limoncello Reviver up (without any ice), in a cocktail glass.
Limoncello Reviver Cocktail
For the cocktail:
- 1 oz Empress Gin
- 1 oz Fabrizia Limoncello
- 1 oz Lillet Blanc
- 1 oz lemon juice
- ½ oz simple syrup (optional)
For the pink coconut water ice:
- ½ cup pink coconut water
For the cocktail:
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill it with ice.
- Shake until chilled, then strain the liquid into a large coupe glass over the pink coconut water ice.
- Garnish with an expressed orange peel and a purple edible flower, if desired.
For the pink coconut water ice:
- Freeze the coconut water in a large sphere mold like the Tovolo Ice Sphere Mold or into regular ice cubes. It takes about 6 hours to freeze in the Tovolo mold.