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Couple Revitalizes Old Moroccan Liquor In Yonkers Warehouse

Dorit and David Nahmias Photo Credit: Suzanne Samin
David Nahmias explains what mahia is.
David Nahmias explains what mahia is. Video Credit: Suzanne Samin
Bottles of mahia Photo Credit: Suzanne Samin
Fresh figs from California used in making mahia. Photo Credit: Suzanne Samin
Pictures of Moroccan kings and family members line the walls of the distillery. Photo Credit: Suzanne Samin

YONKERS, N.Y. -- You probably don't know what mahia is, but in Morocco, the antiquated spirit's name means "water of life."

Based in Yonkers out of an industrial warehouse, Nahmias Et Fils is a distillery, steeped in family tradition, that produces mahia.

Mahia is made of fermented figs and aniseed mixed in large vats, then distilled into a clear, high proof brandy. It is normally mixed with citrus drinks, such as lemonade, and was originally made by Moroccan Jews.

The husband and wife team David and Dorit Mahias of the Bronx got into the distillery business after David's parents died and Dorit lost her job as a foreign-exchange trader.

David, who is originally from Morocco, holds his culture close to him. On the walls of the small distillery hang framed pictures of the kings of Morocco, Kabbalist icons and pictures of his family.

David had long dreamed of making mahia in the U.S. His parents and grandparents had produced and sold the spirit from their home for many years.

"It has always been on my mind," he said.

After he immigrated to the U.S. in 1981, he worked for some time as a software developer.

When his parents died, David quit his job and opened the distillery in 2012 to "revitalize" the spirit.

The couple work by themselves, making their mahia, rye whiskey and apple brandy by hand. They import their figs from California and, because of their craft-size, only sell limited amounts. Currently, they have no plans on mass-producing.

"We never really want to lose that craft-feel because that's what this spirit is all about," Dorit said.

However, they have slowly begun distributing in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts as the liquor builds a new consumer-base.

According to David, the Jewish populations of Morocco have dwindled in recent years, and mahia is no longer as popular as it once was.

"People in Morocco would drink mahia all the time, whether it was during holidays or on the weekends. It's used to celebrate," David said.

Now, it is mostly brewed from homes, but can oftentimes contain lots of chemicals if not distilled properly.

"I wanted to get into the business of making good, high quality mahia that you could buy in stores or drink at restaurants," he said.

Since then, their mahia has won awards, been reviewed by mixologists and been picked up in restaurants.

Nahmias et Fils is one of two Westchester-based distilleries. It is located at 201 Saw Mill River Road, but it does not sell its product onsite.

You can find their products ($30 - $40) at Rochambeau in Dobbs Ferry, Liquorfellers in Yonkers, Dylan's Wine Cellar in Peekskill and Westchester Wine Warehouse in Tarrytown.

Bay Wind

1 1/2 oz Mahia

1/2 oz bay leaf simple syrup

1/4 oz lemonade

Build in Collins glass, stir, add ice, garnish with a lemon wheel.

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