Spirits ~ Anecdote about a shot of whiskey

Do you know where the term “shot” comes from? I surely didn’t and still think that I may not, but these answers are fun, to say the least. As someone in the wine business, spirits also slip into my world. I just saw this and did a fact check on it.

From Yahoo.com

One story:

The term “shot ” for an amount of booze originated in the town of Tombstone in the old west when the cost of a bullet equaled the amount for a serving of whiskey. If someone had no money they would trade the bartender a bullet for a “shot “of whiskey. The glass was just what the shot was served in.

Another story:

The Old West  ~The most popular origin story is that the shot glass originated in the Western saloons of the Old West. The story explains that the cowboys of the old west would trade a cartridge (bullet plus powder and primer encased in brass) for a small amount of alcohol. One problem with this story is that, even if true, your average old west saloon would not be able to “commission” the creation of a new style of glass to fill this purpose – even today many bars do not stock shotglasses; they serve shots in ordinary whiskey glasses. Another problem with this origin story is the economics of such a trade are such that it would never happen. Alcohol sold for much more than a single cartridge.


Another story ties the origin of the “shot glass” to the use of quill pens. According to this story the term “shot glass” was coined over 100 years ago, describing a small, thick-walled glass placed on a writing desk, and filled with small lead BBs, or shot. A feather writing quill would be placed in the glass when not in use, and the lead shot would hold the quill upright. An upright quill was more easily removed from the glass.

Even if there was a “shot glass” used for quill pens, it was probably a different size and shape — the thin base and wide top of a standard shotglass are quite unstable for inserting and removing a quill (or even just for having on a desk). A “shot glass” for holding a quill is more likely to have a small top and a large base, the opposite of what we know of as a shotglass. See http://www.libertybellmuseum.com/MuseumShop/quills.htm for sample quill holders

What do you think? I like the barter one…

Leave a Reply