Update: This post is far and away the most popular at Slakethirst, garnering hundreds of hits from searches for “Mauby” and related terms — there’s not much else on the Internet about mauby, it seems. I’ve recently made some mauby from scratch, and have posted a recipe if that interests you. If you arrived here looking for other information about mauby, I’d appreciate it if you left a comment, letting me know what you were hoping to find. –c
I stopped into an Afro-Caribbean grocery yesterday afternoon, hoping to find some Falernum — essential to the true Mai Tai, Rum Swizzle, Fog Cutter and others. No joy with the Falernum, but it’s hard to leave empty handed when confronted with a wealth of imported comestible curiosities. I purchased a bottle of “Sweet & Dandy Mauby Syrup” (and a can of Ghanaian palm nut puree, but that’s another story), hoping it would prove interesting.
Mauby (or “mabi,” “mawbi,” “maubi,” etc.), it turns out, is a much-loved bev in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Cuba — all of the Caribbean, it seems. It derives its name from the central ingredient, the bark of the mauby tree, Colubrina arborescens (or is it Colubrina elliptica?), a buckthorn commonly referred to as “soldierwood” or “naked wood” in the States. Strips of the bark are steeped in boiling water, to which a hefty amount of cane sugar and a variety of spices have been added. On many islands, a portion of a previous batch is used as a starter, and the whole is left to ferment for several days. Fermented or not, it’s drunk ice-cold.
In folk medicine, mauby is variously ascribed the ability to lower cholesterol, counteract arthritis, reduce high blood pressure, act as an aphrodisiac, relieve dysentery, lower diabetics’ blood sugar, and if nothing else, be an excellent thirst-slaking “cooling” beverage. In fact, recent studies [pdf] from the University of the West Indies have shown that consumption of mauby — particularly when made with young coconut water — can significantly reduce hypertension, though the jury is still out on its other benefits.
The syrup I purchased is unspecific about its other flavoring ingredients — “spices and essences” sayeth the label — and I doubt that it was fermented. How closely it approximates traditional home-made mauby, or even how it compares to other concentrates, I cannot say, but R&L Brand Sweet & Dandy Mauby Syrup produces something tasting very like a sweet root beer up-front, with an incredibly long, drawn out bitterness following. It’s a somewhat medicinal aftertaste, but one acclimates to it in fairly short order. Some recipes call for a few dashes of Angostura, others don’t, so I don’t know if all preparations of mauby share this note — some travelers’ journals rave about “refreshing mauby” without even mentioning the bitterness, while others caution that it’s very much an acquired taste. Regardless, it’s a taste that’s beloved throughout the Caribbean — in Trinidad alone, the largest producer of mauby concentrate turns out over 5 million liters — that’s 25 million liters of potable mauby — annually.
What does mauby have to do with cocktails, however? Good question. I’ve not found any recipes calling for it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place at the bar. The syrup is very concentrated — it’s meant to be mixed with water in a 1:4 ratio — which makes it powerfully sweet undiluted. One can easily substitute vodka for 1/2 of the water without notably changing the flavor profile — and I’ve found a Trinidadian’s blog that mentions this practice — but that’s a cop-out. I suspect it may prove more interesting as a substitute for Coca-Cola or root beer in drinks like the Colorado Bulldog, Cuba Libre and Galliano Root Beer Float.
UPDATE: A Mauby Libre isn’t half bad:
1 oz. Mauby Syrup
1 1/2 oz. dark rum
juice of half a lime
Shake well wish crushed ice, strain into a tall glass and fill with seltzer.
Not quite what I was hoping for, but a decent long drink for the dog days. Unfortunately dilute mauby hasn’t the color density of Coca-Cola — this drink doesn’t look very nice. Outside of the world of the long, a proper cocktail with mauby in it is going to have to use no more than a teaspoon of syrup.