When he was just 12 years old, Rotem Ben Shitrit became fascinated by alcohol miniatures—those tiny “nips” so often seen on airlines and in hotel minibars. Today, at age 34, he has more than 8,000 tiny bottles, perhaps the largest collection in the world.
Shitrit was already an avid collector of cigarette boxes and sports cards by the time he was a young teenager, but his inadvertent discovery of “minis” sparked a lifelong passion that would soon consume him, even before he could lawfully buy alcohol. “The legal drinking age in Israel is 18, but back then it wasn’t enforced,” explains Shitrit of his early collecting days. “I found myself hitting every liquor store in Tel Aviv on my own with a Ziploc full of coins.”
His first acquisition was a pretty run-of-the-mill Finlandia Cranberry Vodka, but his second was significantly more obscure, a Gilbey’s Gin made and bottled in Kenya, which he purchased while overseas in Mombasa.
While spirits collecting is hardly uncommon, focusing on miniatures is almost unheard of. (In fact, collectors of oversize bottles are easier to come by.) But if rarity is the goal, miniatures offer an even greater reward than their standard-size counterparts: They’re generally made in fewer numbers and are therefore harder to source. Naturally, they offer space-saving benefits, too. But for Shitrit, the appeal of the miniatures goes beyond the practical.
“I honestly find them a lot more special,” says Shitrit. “Put 10 large bottles in a row, and it’ll look like a bar. Put 10 minis in a row, and it’ll look like a collection.” Having bought an apartment in Kfar Saba last year, Shitrit can now put 8,000 on display, finally unboxing everything he’s acquired over the last two decades.
Before moving back home to Israel, Shitrit spent the previous 11 years in Bethesda, Maryland, where he amassed a selection of American whiskey minis, which total over 3,000 in his collection. Among those are several examples of Maryland rye, a historic style rarely seen today, that are among the most prized in his possession—more for their sentimental value than their inherent monetary worth.
His affinity for miniatures, however, does not carry over to the contents of the bottles—in fact, Shitrit rarely drinks. (“Maybe a beer every couple months,” he says.) This hasn’t thwarted his interest, however, and his collection now fills an entire room: four walls of floor-to-ceiling shelving are encased in glass to keep the bottles out of the reach of his two young children.
His wife, Yael, meanwhile, has supported his hobby since they first started dating. In fact, Shitrit insists he married her because of her support for his hobby. Early in their relationship, he remembers stumbling upon his personal white whale—a Glenfiddich 50 Year Old—one of the most coveted miniatures among those in the know. The only problem was the $2,000 price tag. “I called her and told her that I can buy the bottle, but I’m not going to, since it’s way too much for me,” Shitrit recalls. “She started yelling at me over the phone, telling me to buy it and that we’ll be fine with the money.”
Unfortunately, the halcyon days of miniatures are long gone. Most brands only bottle their everyday offerings in nip form, destined for convenience-store counters and airplanes. But for Shitrit, a worse offense is the “plastic junk” that they’re now packaged in. Today, most of his collecting and trading is done at the annual Midwest Miniature Bottle Collectors convention in St. Louis or via his minis website. Of course, traveling to far-flung places still remains the best way to find sought-after bottles.
“In two weeks, we are going to the southern part of France for a Cognac minis search,” says Shitrit. A few weeks prior, he was searching for nips in Cyprus supermarkets. “What can I say? It’s an addiction.”
A Tour of Rotem Ben Shitrit’s Vintage Minis
This 1930s American whiskey comes with a striking red, white and blue label. A standard blend of the time, Shitrit touts this bottle mostly for sentimental reasons—he and Yael have a particular attachment to Fort McHenry in Baltimore.
This Maryland rye distillery arrived in Westminster in the 1930s before going out of business in the late 1960s. When a fellow collector friend of Shitrit’s died and was buried in the northern Maryland town, this four-year-old straight rye became particularly meaningful to him.
Towson Maryland Rye
A surprisingly mature seven-year-old Maryland rye from the 1930s, Shitrit notes that this bottle holds nostalgic value for him—he once dated a woman from that area. “The name always brings back memories,” he explains.
Green Spring Blended Whiskey
Another Maryland product from the 1930s—a rye blend alongside grain-neutral spirit—this miniature is packaged in a flask-shaped bottle, one of the few Shitrit has ever come across.
Old Faithful Brand
“I’m a sucker for dogs, and the label has a cute dog face on it,” says Shitrit of the Maryland straight rye bottled by Union Distiller’s Products in Baltimore.