I am not sure why bourbon distilleries sell shot glasses? In my early visits to distilleries, I found that the unique shapes and sizes of “branded” shot glasses were a great keepsake commemorating the experience. I continued to pursue this passion until I began to understand bourbon and why the image of a shot glass conjures up memories of shooting some Canadian whisky at a family function. The very idea of drinking a shot and a beer is about getting drunk fast. Bourbon is best-enjoyed deliberately whenever possible.

The origin of the term shot glass

In pioneer days, you would often find a small glass vessel on the dinner table. The diners used this glass to collect any metal “shot” in the food they were consuming. Buckshot was prevalent in small game animals and fowl such as duck, partridge, and quail. Frontiersman would often reuse the collected shot. Another popular version is that a bullet costs the same amount as a glass of whiskey. When a frontiersman was out of money, he could offer the bartender a bullet as payment for his whiskey. The transaction became known as a shot glass of whiskey. Another possibility is that a German inventor by the name of Friedrich Schott invented the glass. The Schott family name was shortened and became known as the shot glass. I would prefer either of the first two versions.

Images of various collectible shot glasses #shot glass Why bourbon distilleries sell shot glasses
A small sampling of the Bourbonfool shot glass collection. Note the hand-thrown shot glass made by Tater Knob pottery in Berea, Kentucky. (Bottom right group)

What is a shot of liquor?

There are dozens of recipes that call for a shot of liquor. However, this probably refers more to measurement than to the use of a specific shot glass. In the United States, there is no formal definition of a shot glass. Typically, it refers to a measurement ranging from 1.25 to 1.5 fluid ounces. However, in the state of Utah, a shot is defined as one fluid ounce.

Measuring liquor with a jigger

The modern tool you often see in bars is called a jigger. Many have an hourglass shape with two contrasting vessels on either side.ย  This two-sided tool was patented in 1893 and was available in various configurations. The modern version often features a 1.5 ounce and a 1-ounce measuring option.

Bourbon deserves slow, comfortable sampling

I can only come up with a couple of reasons why bourbon distilleries sell shot glasses. First and foremost, they are an affordable souvenir that does not take up a lot of space. Secondly, how cool is it to make an old-fashioned or Manhattan using the whiskey brand shot glass as a measuring tool. I have now graduated away from purchasing shot glasses during my distillery visits. Now, it is the pursuit of logoed rocks glasses or the individual Glencairn styles. I guess I am attracted to glassware?