Also known as Liquore al Basilico, this herb-infused alcohol (liquor or liqueur, as you prefer) is very similar to its more popular cousin, Limoncello. The basic steps and method are the same for making it.
I made limoncello and crema di limoncello once when I was living in California. I had a Meyer lemon tree in my backyard that made me feel blessed and cursed at the same time. When I was in Lemondrop or Lemonade-making mood, I was blessed. When hundreds of lemons stared at me, ripening before my eyes and begging to be used, I felt cursed. One time I picked a ton of the ripe lemons, peeled off their skins and dropped them into the strongest vodka I could find. The results were…not bad, but nothing like Sorrento.
Basilcello isn’t much different and it actually doesn’t require as much raw material or preparation as peeling a ton of lemons and avoiding the pith (white part of the lemon peel).
Limoncello and Basilcello are both so strong because they are made with grain alcohol (illegal in California when I was living there) and that accounts for the pleasant, full-scale “digestive burn” on its way down your throat. Unfortunately, these liquors made with anything less potent are often a bad imitation. If you don’t have grain alcohol available, make sure you cut back on the sugar as it will be too sweet, but try and get that grain alcohol!
I had purchased a veritable tree of basil one day at the market, and in addition to making some fresh pesto, I knew I wanted to make Basilcello. Though I hadn’t seen or tasted it before (and I found Ilva’s recipe after making mine), I thought it would be a nice experiment.
Basilcello, Liquore al Basilico – Basil Liqueur / Liquor
adapted from Cucina Moderna
20 basil leaves
5 dl (500ml) of 95% grain alcohol (190 proof)
600g white sugar
6 dl (600ml) water
- Clean the basil leaves by wiping them gently with a damp paper towel. Do not wet or immerse the leaves as they can lose some of their oils and will start to blacken.
- Put the leaves and the grain alcohol together in a (preferably glass) bottle and close it tightly. Leave it to infuse for 15-20 days, mixing/turning it over 2-3 times a day. The liquid will start to get green immediately.
- After this time passes, bring the water to a boil in a pan, add the sugar and mix it until dissolved, but take the mixture off the heat before it comes to a boil. Allow the mixture to cool completely.
- Add the syrup to the basil alcohol and mix well, then filter out the basil leaves and other pieces. Close the mixture in a glass bottle, leaving it in a dark place for another 20 days.
- Serve the liquid as cold as possible, and store (for ready-serving) in the freezer or refrigerator. Before pouring, shake the bottle to make sure it’s fully mixed.
The result is a bright green, very sweet basil liquor that will help take away your indigestion just like the best limoncello. In fact I’m starting to be partial to my little basil liquor already and aren’t inclined to share with others. Its bright green color speaks to me. The only way you’ll get a taste of mine is by coming here directly!
Basil liquor too weird for you? Would you pair it with anything?
Wow, what an interesting idea! I am saving this, just because I know I would like it with something….perhaps an Italian version of a Bloody Mary or something….hmmm…
Ms. Adventures in Italy says
@Cedar, you can definitely definitely drink it by itself! :)
Aha! So is this what you meant by getting together when Ilva comes into town? Sure, I’m all for a cup of tea (or a shot of basilcello). Just let me know waaaay ahead of time and I hope it’s a w/e. Right now though, I’m stuck with a cold, so it’s only Tachiparina Flu for me!
Basil liquor … It sure sounds weird to me, but who knows — might be fantastic. I would be willing to try. Like Cedar said, an Italian version of Bloody Mary.
This looks and sounds amazing. I’ve never heard of basilcello, but I got really into digestifs in Germany so I would love to try this some time.
Wow – this is the first I’ve heard of basilcello, but I’ve definitely heard of its cousin limoncello! I’m intrigued!
I’ve never heard of this either, but it looks too good to pass up! That color of green is amazing!
Shelley, At Home in Rome says
I’ve never tried this before. I’m one of the few people who doesn’t like mint juleps, so I’m thinking I might not go for this either… but I’d be willing to give it a try!
Starting this project this evening — glad they sell grain alcohol in Georgia! I’m surprised that 20 basil leaves is all the recipe calls for. Might try infusing the simple syrup with tangerine zest.
Firstly, how cool is it that you wrote about basilcello (cute name). My mom makes it so I tried it too. She uses 40 leaves of Basil though. Oregon and Nevada sell Everclear but you’re not supposed to bring that dynamite-in-a-bottle onto a plane… oops!
Secondly: Lemonade! It’s great in lemonade, I found out quite by accident. Who knew? Try it.
Wonderful post! Thanks so much. I was looking for a recipe for both limoncello and basilcello. Now I only have to find the grain alcohol haha. But I am def going to make it :)
Ohh…you are very brave. Me+cooking=disaster. I admire you!
I wish I drank more cocktails! This sounds like a fun project. Does it have a long shelf-life after straining?
Being a foodie blog from Italy, I tagged you for a Refrigerator MeMe! It should be interesting to see your fridge :)
Susan from Food Blogga says
I love Limoncello, but this is new to me. I’m intrigued.
This looks fabulous! I made basil lemonade this summer and it was wonderful-I think this would make for a great adult version of that drink. Yum.
Italy Logue says
Wow, I’ve never heard of this one before, although I’ve made limoncello several times. I’m having trouble imagining what basil would taste like in a sweet version… But I’ve got such a sweet tooth I’d probably end up liking it. :)
ooooh! It’s way to beautiful NOT to try. Plus, I love the basil! I would probably pair this with something salty and acidic maybe? But I like Antonella’s lemonade idea!
I wonder how this would be with mint? My husband has been on a mojito kick and it’s starting to drive me crazy… he’s always saying he wants more mint flavor! This could be the way, haha!
Ms. Adventures in Italy says
Yes, I think the next batch might be a hybrid basil-lemon, but I look forward to finishing this batch :)
I’ve got far too much basil in my fridge and I’m looking for ways to use it – this sounds delicious but I”m also intrigued by how to make the basil lemonade, any recipes anyone?
Found this while looking for a recipe for basilicocello. I read about it in “A Year in the World’ by Frances Mayes.
Sounds delicious – we will make it when basil is back in season.
I’m too young to drink legally, so it’ll definitely be a few years before I try this, but it’s quite the neat idea! It reminds me of summer, when the local ice cream shop sells basil ice cream. Apparently the idea is that basil is a close cousin of mint so works the same way. We’ve definitely had fun with the ice creams- nice gazpatchos with a dollop of creamy goodness in the middle. I’m sure my mom would love a bloody mary made with this stuff.
This sounds excellent, I am still curious about the shelf life myself. I assume the less water in your sugar solution you use, the more shelf stable it is. I would also suggest keeping it in the refrigerator and/or in a dark (opaque) bottle. Additionally, basil liquor should extract the essentials out of the basil and pick up some of its anti-depressant activities.
About the italian bloody mary, I am not sure a sweet basil liquor would have any place in a notoriously salty and spicy drink. It would probably end up tasting like over spiced gravy. That been said, you might consider mixing it with lemon or seltzer water. I imagine with seltzer water it would be a phenomenal apertif.
I’d mix it with a clear strawberry liqueur, like a bar in downtown Seattle does with the fresh basil leaves and liquor. This would definitely be interesting with strawberries, but I can’t wait to try it as is!
Jan McIntyre says
I would like to give this at Christmas. Will it keep that long?
There are serveral types of basil. What variety did you use?
I came over from My bella Vita. I never heard of this either. The colour!!! This is a definite!
How many servings does this make? I’m thinking of doubling this recipe – we have quite the bumper crop of basil this year!
Ms. Adventures in Italy says
Hi Shells, it’s quite a lot of liquor, actually – should be more than a liter in total.
What a great, simple recipe. Can’t wait to try it. Thanks for sharing. And Marie is a genius–of course this would go great with a strawberry liquor. Brilliant!
There is a place here that makes a great basil strawberry martini. This seems like the perfect liquor to try replicating the drink at home.
My basilchello oxidized to brown! any ideas on how to prevent this?
How bad is it when the leaves start to blacken?
My leaves went brown, too, but the basilcello seems to be working. Bottling mine up tomorrow. The green color is really amazing.
Had liquore di basilico in a small Rome restaurant. It wasn’t on the menu, but our kind waiter had it in the freezer. The green color is amazing. Upon a return trip to this same restaurant, they didn’t know what I was talking about. So, I am happy to have this recipe to relive the experience. BTW, I”m somewhat of a freak with basil. I’ve even made basil ice cream — deelish!
Melissa (Alienbody) says
Everclear IS available in California! Woot! It can be purchased at BevMo and we’ve made Limoncello (sp?) with it in the past…always fearful that the slightest rubbing of our clothing would cause a spark and then *poof* there goes the neighborhood. So, this time we are making it with 100 proof vodka. Now we just try the basil version. (found your link from BlogHer on Facebook)
Try mixing this with gin and ruby red grapefruit juice for a fabulous basiltini!
So, first, thank you for this amazing recipe. I just poured the grain alcohol over the basil leaves and the leaves are turning brown/black already! Is this a problem? The basil is from my own herb garden, and I didn’t wash the leaves, but carefully wiped each one. I’m concerned about the color, though. Will it be green in 15-20 days? Anyone else had this issue?
Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy says
@Sue – hm, that’s frustrating. I don’t think it will go back to green once it’s turned black :( Has a subsequent try resulted the same?
Thank you for your response. Just wanted you to know that this recipe turned out so amazingly well! Today is the tasting day, and it is so delicious! Only the leaves turned brown, but the liquid remained a beautiful green color. Having a cocktail party this afternoon; strawberry martini’s with homemade basil liqueur! Fabulous!
I came across this looking for a substitute for pastis or licorice flavored alcohols (specifically for use in Oysters Rockefeller, but also for cocktails). Someone on a cocktail thread about Pernod brought up that basil has licorice undertones, so I went looking for a basil liqueur and ended up here. I imagine you could use this as a substitute for Pernod, Herbsaint or Absinthe in Sazeracs, Corpse Revivers or Billionaires. Or you could use it like I will, in cooking a variety of seafoods or to round out a tomato-based stew.
I’ve made several batches of this and it’s quite good. I have two suggestions. There’s no need to wipe the basil leaves with paper towels. It will definitely remove some of the oil and it accomplishes nothing. Strain the alcohol/basil solution before you add the simple syrup. Because the viscosity is lower, straining is quicker and leaves less liquid on the leaves.
So excited to find this! We used to have a little trattoria that served a lemon basil martini.. I think they created a basil-infused simple syrup and added a citrus vodka but this seems SO much better! They closed down some years ago and I’ve had an unquenched taste for that martini for ages! Time to remedy!!