Shot taking history, origin & culture

Shot taking history, origin & culture

Love them or hate them, shots have been a part of drinking culture since the very beginning. Whether it’s to toast a close friend's birthday, as an aperitif before a meal, a quick chaser before heading out on the town to toasting at a wedding - shots have been a huge part of the way we consume alcohol for years. 

There’s so much more to be said about shot culture than that of a reckless, quick way to be inebriated. From its history dating back as early as the 1600s to now being part of many cultures around the world as a way of celebrating your friends, loved ones and honouring traditions. 

What is a shot? 

In modern drinking times, a ‘shot’ means a small measure of alcohol. A ‘shot’ generally refers to an ounce of straight spirit i.e tequila, vodka, Highland Boundary. A quick one-gulp ounce of spirit, which is usually taken as a side to a larger drink. A ‘shooter’ on the other hand will generally be a spirit mixed with something sweeter and come in all sorts of bright colours. A phenomenon from the late 50s and 60s cocktail era. A marketing ploy by bartenders and pubs throughout the USA to enhance sales. And thus became the shot culture as we know it. 

Shot Origin & History 

The epistemology of the word ‘shot’ is very interesting and often confused among internet users and historians alike. The word ‘shot’ has had various meanings over the years and targeting its beginnings to one specific time or person proves to be difficult. 

If you go on any internet search you will find the common misconception that the word ‘shot’ derives from the old west - a theory that populated our screens through an internet meme for many years. The theory goes that the word ‘shot’ originated in saloons where a bullet would be traded for a shot of alcohol by the locals when they were short on cash. 

After some fact-checking, it turns out that this is not the case at all. The word ‘shot’ dates back much further than the old west. It’s also key to note that at the time the price of a shot of whisky in comparison to the price of a bullet did not correlate at all. You would, in fact, have had to have traded 10 bullets for 1 shot of whisky. 

The word ‘shot’ over the years has taken on many meanings. Its first recorded use as a ‘measure of liquor’ was in the autobiography of Rev. Oliver Heywood. A British minister who lived from 1630 until 1702, around 150 years prior to The Old West time period. Other theories that circulate around the origins of the word ‘shot’ are that they were named after Friedrich Otto Schott, a glassmaker who made shot glasses in America. 

The term ‘shot’ was also synonymous with ‘a charge to be paid at one time, with reference to paying one's share at a bar or pub. With lots of disparities in meaning and origin over the years, the word ‘shot’ as we know it gradually came into common use in the mid-20th century. Featuring heavily in publications from the 1800 hundreds onwards but becoming known worldwide and most commonly as a ‘small glass of liquor’ from 1928 onwards. 

There’s a lot of common misconceptions surrounding the origins of the word ‘shot’ and its place in history. However, as a ‘culture’ it developed as a way for people to drink quicker and more cheaply. This took off across the world with various places across the globe adopting their own shot traditions with various liquors and glassware.  Whilst the size and type of shot varies depending on geographical location, it would be fair to say that shots have remained popular across the globe to this day. 

Shot taking traditions across the world 

Many are dubious about shots’ place in drinking culture. On the one hand, it can be a reckless and quick way to consume alcohol and can encourage rapid consumption. On the other hand, shot rituals across the world have become an influential part of drinking culture, a way to celebrate, commemorate or pay homage to one’s traditions. 

Shots vary in size and measurements depending on where in the world you are. They will also come in various glass types and may have other rituals associated with them. 


In the Netherlands, Genever is known as “the grandfather” of gin and is also their national drink. Like gin, it is made with juniper berries however it tastes more like a whiskey. It is typically served chilled, in a fluted shot glass with a small glass of beer alongside. Drinkers bend from the waist with their hands behind their backs to take the first sip followed by a sip of beer.  


In Russia it is seen as uncivil to add a mixer to your vodka. Consuming it any way but neat is just simply unacceptable. 

Russia is well known for its’ love of vodka. Vodka is typically served chilled in a small shot glass and held up as toasts are made. Glasses are then clinked, a deep breath is taken and finally it is drunk in one go.  In Peru, beer is served in a large bottle with one small glass to be shared by all drinkers. Each person will fill a small glass with the beer, drink it as a shot and pass on the glass to the next drinker. 


Tequila is commonly drunk in the UK and America as a “slammer.” This involves licking a small amount of salt, drinking the tequila as quickly as possible and then biting into a lime. Whilst the Czech Republic also drinks tequila in a similar manner, they opt for licking cinnamon and then swapping out lime for orange. Mexicans frown upon tequila being drunk in this manner, with many choosing to sip it slowly to enjoy the taste - the true marking of high-quality tequila.


National bartending ‘ritual’ of having a sneaky shot mid-shift. With rules around drinking on-duty much more relaxed in the USA, this pastime has become a tradition of bars thanking their bar staff, with a little bit of staff bonding and therapy on the side. Done usually as a midnight ‘staff meal’. However, across America, the shot of choice will vary depending on city, state and season. From The Snaquirai in New York (Daiquiri shot), Tequila in San Diego to Whisky in DC the US states each come with their own colourful rituals of shot-taking. 

Types of shot glass

Generally speaking, a shot will come as one or two ounces, however, this can vary from country to country. 

Many of us have consumed shots at some point in our life but did you know that each different style of shot glass has its own name and purpose?

Cheater glass - an optical illusion for those who don’t want to consume a full shot. 


cheater shot glass image

 Photo by Eric Gilkes on Unsplash  


Single-shoot glass - holds a full shot.


Shooter shot glass - Photo by user cyrill on



Tall shot glass - common for taking shooters in America.


tall shot glass

 Photo by user jan-willem on

Rounded glass - most commonly seen in Europe. 

Shot Glass Collecting

Many people across the world will collect shot glasses as a hobby. This past time is less about the alcohol itself and more about the glass. You can travel anywhere in the world and pick up a unique shot glass in various shapes, sizes and colours. This is an excellent way to commemorate travels and grow a unique collection of individual shot glasses of all shapes and sizes. 

Highland Boundary’s take on shot culture 

Our belief is that shots should be taken slowly and enjoyed responsibly. The aim is no longer to get the alcohol down quickly to avoid tasting it. True, good quality drinks should be treasured and as we say “don’t waste it… taste it”. 

Create your own shot taking tradition. 

We also recommend trying our spirits as a shot, although our spirits and liqueurs are quite versatile and can be used in an abundance of cocktails and drinks.

Check out our Spirits and Liqueurs here.