There have been many stories circulated on how the shot glass earned its name. The fact is, nobody is certain about the exact origins of the American shot glass, but there have been many different speculations, all quite fascinating:
One such speculation takes place in the American Old West, where a bullet for a cowboy’s six-gun cost 12 cents, and so did a glass of whiskey. If the cowboy was short on cash he would give the bartender a bullet from his gun in exchange for a glass of whiskey, and this became known as a “shot” or “shot glass” of whiskey.
Another story suggests the name originates from buckshot. In early America when we still hunted our meals regularly, a small glass would be left on dinner tables at each table setting in which guests could place the lead shot or buckshot that may still be in their meals, eventually leading to the coining of the term "shot glass."
It has also been suggested that Friedrich Otto Schott invented the glass at the German glassworks factory Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Genossen, of which he was the co-founder. When the small glass was imported into the United States, it was Americanized with the name Shot Glass instead of Schott Glass.
A Shot: Glass, Measurement, or Both?
Confusion about the size of a shot glass comes from recipes that call for a shot of liquor. This can easily be cleared up, however; a “shot” of liquor in a cocktail recipe is not a reference to a shot glass; rather, it is simply a measurement meaning 1/14 to 1/12 ounces of liquor.
In a non-cooking context though, the term shot is generally in reference to any small glass, from barware to souvenir collectibles to tiny glasses in funny shapes such as a cowboy boot or a cactus. In a bar, the term is a bit more specific - it refers to the small glass used to serve shooters and single glasses of liquor to the patron.
Fun Fact: If you wish to indicate you want an ounce of liquor, "pony shot" is the term you should use!
So What's the Difference Between a Shot and Jigger?
In a bar, a jigger is used for measurements - each side holds a different amount of liquor. They come in a number of different sizes (the usual choices range from 1/2 oz. up to 2 oz.), so you can personalize your jigger depending on the needs of your bar and your most frequently requested drinks.
If, on the other hand, you see the term "jigger" as part of a cocktail recipe, it means to add 1-½ ounces of liquor.
In movies and on TV, we see bartenders “free pouring” into the cocktail and never measuring. And yes, that can be done. Free pour bartenders have been trained to count the pour. Tip the bottle, count to four, and lift the bottle. That is an ounce of liquor.
...Or Measured Pour?
While some bartenders do master the “free pour” technique, you will find most successful commercial bars use portion control liquor pourers or trigger control bottle dispensers that can be adapted to different bottles to pour a different amount from each bottle via the trigger control. The beauty of a liquor pourer or trigger dispenser pourer is that drinks are consistent in flavor and unnecessary waste is eliminated, meaning profit can be managed at the same time quality is consistent.
Keeping Your Liquor Pourer and Bottles Bug Free
If you equip your home bar or commercial bar liquor bottles with liquor pourers, do not forget the dust caps to keep the bugs away when not in use.
It is just a fact that fruit flies enjoy liquor (perhaps even more than humans do) and pouring them out of your bottle when serving up a cocktail or shooter is just embarrassing and disgusting. Friends and patrons will not soon return to your bar after seeing a fruit fly poured out of your liquor bottle into their shot or mixed drink. A dust cover is an inexpensive way to keep your liquor pest and dust free.