It’s not too often that we’re completely unfamiliar with a certain type of liquor. Not that we’re all boozehounds here at Food Republic (well, on second thought…), but it is our job, after all, to know these types of things. So it was rather surprising last week when members of our editorial staff were introduced to a spirit that none of us had ever tried: mahia.
Simply put, mahia is the spirit of Morocco. Traditionally distilled as an eau de vie by the Jewish population of the country (the Muslim population is not permitted to do so), mahia can be made from either figs or dates and aniseed. While it is still available (mostly cheaply and in supermarkets) in its home country, the spirit has faded somewhat into obscurity over the past 60 years, as most of Morocco’s Jewish community left for Israel, France, Canada and the United States.
And that’s where Dorit and David Nahmias come in. The husband-and-wife team is currently the sole producer of mahia in the U.S., running a small distillery called Nahmias et Fils in Yonkers, New York (the couple also produces a whiskey). Consumers can purchase mahia directly from the distiller, or they can find it in some of the Northeast’s larger liquor stores, as well as in California.
So how exactly is this 80-proof spirit made, and more importantly, how does it taste? Dorit Nahmias claims that there are at least six pounds of California figs in each bottle and that no sugar is added during fermentation. Consumers have reported that they “taste figs and that it reminds them of a lighter ‘fig grappa’ or even tequila,” she says. Take it from famed mixologist, chef and author Warren Bobrow, who reports that mahia is “chock-full of of roasted figs and exotic anise, bathed in pools of warm sunshine.” He lists several North African foods as being good pairings with the spirit.
Nahmias comments that it is most commonly sipped straight up, during or after dinner, though she remarks that her mother-in-law insisted on her drinking it in the morning “to give her strength.” Now that’s the type of in-law relationship we could all get behind.
While its production remains limited today, the Nahmias family hopes that mahia can continue to find its way onto dinner tables in a variety of forms. “Today, our mahia is being used in cocktails as the primary ingredient or as an added flavor,” says Nahmias. “Many of our customers like to drink it on the rocks with a twist of lemon, use it in traditional cocktails such as mojitos or margaritas and mix it with fresh lemonade or watermelon juice.” Restaurants have also taken a liking to the Moroccan spirit, as a handful of cocktail menus nationwide list the stuff as an ingredient in drinks. Bobrow was kind enough to offer us one of his own creations below.
Courtesy of Warren Bobrow
Servings: 1 cocktail
1 1/2 ounces mahia
1 ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce grilled lemon juice
3 ounces seltzer
Orange zest (garnish), knife-cut
- Fill a Collins glass with spear ice.
- Add Grand Marnier.
- Add mahia over the top.
- Add grilled lemon juice and stir.
- Top with seltzer, stir again.
- Dot with bitters and garnish with orange zest.