Nahmias et Fils's Traditional Moroccan Brandy: A Taste of an Old Jewish Tradition
Not many people are familiar with mahia, but those who are rave of its flavor and medicinal qualities. Mahia literally means "water of life," a direct translation of "eau de vie" -- the French term for colorless fruit brandies, of which mahia is one. Mahia is a traditional Moroccan Jewish spirit that is distilled with figs or dates and herbs. Up in Yonkers, Dorit and David Nahmias distill their mahia with fresh California figs and anise.
Nahmias et Fils Bottles of mahia
"My husband's family were distillers," Dorit tells us of her husband David. "He remembers watching his mother and grandmother making mahia." Traditionally distilled by Jews, the digestif was a vehicle for community gatherings between Jews and non-Jews alike. "When my mother-in-law came to New York, she'd make it and give it out on Ocean Parkway, near the small Moroccan Jewish community."
The traditions around mahia have slowly faded from the Jewish community as Sephardic Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel, France, or The United States.
"Since I've known my husband, all he has talked about is opening a distillery to make mahia," Dorit says. "Several years ago I got laid off from my job as a banker, and I couldn't find another job. I said, 'Why don't we just try it? Let's go for it. Now's the time to make the dream come true.' It took a few years and we finally made it, and we're bringing back this tradition."
To make the Nahmias et Fils mahia, David and Dorit crush fresh California figs with water and leave them to ferment for two weeks. After the fermentation process, the mahia is pumped through the still and fresh anise seed is added, though "not a lot," Dorit notes. "We don't want it to overpower the fig."
Nahmias et Fils via Facebook The still
Mahia can be consumed as a digestif or aperitif, used in citrus-based cocktails, and even incorporated in cooking. Kosher chef Levana Kirschenbaum developed an entire menu using mahia, including a late fall-appropriate recipe for cream of roasted carrots and parsnips soup, available on the next page.
Nahmias et Fils's mahia is a unique way to celebrate Jewish heritage and late fall figs. Grab a taste of the unique spirit at the upcoming Holiday Spirits Tasting Event or snag yourself a bottle for this holiday season. A cocktail recipe and soup recipe can be found on the next page.