Mahia: The Moroccan Spirit
Have you ever heard of Mahia? Yeah, me neither. So, I decided to look into it. The following is a quick post containing some of the information that I found. First off, what’s in the name? Mahia literary means “water of life”, it refers to a relatively little known Moroccan spirit (about 80 proof) that is distilled from figs or dates with the slight addition of aniseed. As a whole, Moroccans consume figs and dates regularly since both are accessible to people from all walks of life, from rich to poor. The production of mahia expertly utilizes this resource; it was originally produced by the Jewish communities of within Morocco. And, it has a history that reaches back hundreds of years.
Mahia is considered the most famous alcoholic beverage in Morocco due to price and availability. Along the countryside, the drink is not only known as mahia, but also as mernica, which means “cheap whiskey”. If you ever get your hands on some, be careful because it is known to have an infamous ability to intoxicate. Enough so that it is often referred to as the “killer drink”. Because of this, the consumption of mahia should be done responsibly. There, I said it. Now, with the legalese behind us, let’s move on to production.
The Basics of Mahia Production
Historically speaking, Morocco is predominantly a Muslim country. Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol, however, mahia was consumed not only by the Jewish populations, but by non-Jewish Moroccans as well. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Jewish people were forbidden from producing mahia in their neighborhoods. At that time, the authorities prevented the distillation and closed several homes that used to produce it. However, some people persevered and proceeded to set up small operations and sell mahia in secret.
The most common way of making producing mahia is quite rudimentary. Dried figs or dates are placed into a large container and yeast is added to the mix. No sugar is added due to the natural sugar content present in dates and figs. The container is then tightly closed for a period ranging from 20 days to a month. After this phase, the mixture is placed into another container and closed, except for a small opening through which a tube is attached, this is where the mahia drips out and is collected. While I admittedly may have glanced over several steps, these are the basics of distillation that produces mahia at a rudimentary level.
Unfortunately, many people have claimed that mahia has disappeared from Morocco due to the immigration of the Jewish people to other countries around the globe. However, locals know this to be incorrect. In Morocco, mahia is available in liquor stores, and some people produce it in their homes to enjoy among themselves or sell it in the local community. Still, outside of Morocco, mahia is not very common compared to global brands. The tide may be changing, however, if a craft distiller from Yonkers, New York has anything to say about it!
Introducing ‘Nahmias et fils’
David Nahmias and his wife Dorit are Moroccans who migrated to the United States. Together they have created a brand of mahia under David’s family name called “Nahmias et fils” which means Nahmias and sons. The brand “Nahmias et fils” has been an extension of the family heritage that David inherited from his family back in Morocco. He learned the authentic methods of producing the Moroccan spirit from his family who were among the Jewish mahia distillers since 1900. It was a tradition that was passed down from one generation to another. As the sole producers of mahia in the U.S., and using copper stills, David and Dorit have set the bar high. The quality of their modern mahia is said to be quite remarkable.
Indeed, Nahmias et fils has been recognized during global events such as The Tasting Panel Magazine where it obtained 93 points. It was also awarded a silver medal during the New York International Spirits Competition, and an A rating by the Good Spirits News… Impressive! With this success, the brand has helped to enable the spread of mahia awareness to more people around the globe.
Mahia is considered to perform well as both a aperitif and a digestive. The taste of mahia is best described by mixologist, Warren Bobrow, who is on record as saying, mahia is “chock-full of roasted figs and exotic anise, bathed in pools of warm sunshine.” I don’t know about you, but that description makes me want to taste a
glass bottle of mahia! First, I’d like to sip it neat, then maybe try a few cocktails made with a true Moroccan spirit.