Everything You Need To Know About The Shamrock Shake

Some people count the days until spring, some count the days until summer vacation, and others count the days until the Shamrock Shake shows up at McDonald's

If you're a fan of the bright green seasonal treat from the Golden Arches, you know exactly what we're talking about. The autumn months might have the pumpkin spiced latte, but when it comes to seasonal treats it's tough to beat the Shamrock Shake (sorry, Starbucks!). This unnaturally green treat isn't just a shocking color, but it's shockingly popular, too. So popular, in fact, that you don't need an ad to tell you when it's back. If you don't have the release date programmed into your calendar, your friends on social media will be sure to let you know the second it arrives — as will the suddenly longer lines in the McDonald's drive-thru. 

We're betting there are still things you don't know about the Shamrock Shake, though, no matter how much you love it, so let's talk. This is everything you need to know about your favorite pre-spring indulgence.

The national takeover of Shamrock Shakes was late in the game

Ancient cultures had their own rites and rituals observed to welcome in the springtime, and the modern world has Shamrock Shakes. They're a pretty familiar part of our fast food landscape, and that's what makes it extra surprising that they've only been a nationwide offering since 2012.

That's not a typo, and Business Insider says that's the first year McDonald's made the move to offering the Shamrock Shake in restaurants from coast to coast. Until then, it was up to the individual franchisee whether or not they would make the extra effort to offer up this seasonal treat. In 2011, only about half of all McDonald's were selling Shamrock Shakes, and that's the very definition of unthinkable. The Shamrock Shake had a big year in 2012 — it's also when the shake was given a bit of a makeover, and got topped with whipped cream and a cherry (which later disappeared) to give it more of a dessert-like appearance (you know, just in case you're one of those people who think a Shamrock Shake makes a perfectly acceptable lunch).

Ireland isn't McLovin' Shamrock Shakes

So, what does Ireland think of the Shamrock Shake? They are available in the Emerald Isle, but that doesn't mean they're entirely happy about it.

In 2017, McDonald's had to apologize to the entire country over an ill-conceived advertisement that featured a man with red hair wearing a tartan (which is Scottish) playing the milkshake like a set of bagpipes (which are also Scottish) in front of Stonehenge (which is in England), while sheep roam around in the background. 

The Irish Post reported that an official apology came not long after social media pointed out that McDonald's had clearly not done their research, leading to enough controversy that the ad was pulled. One Twitter user commented, "Are the sheep Irish? Because nothing else in this picture is."

A formal complaint had been lodged by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternity with its headquarters in the U.S., leading McDonald's to not only apologize but reaffirm how much they actually love Ireland. "Please know that McDonald's is strongly supportive of Ireland and respectful of its culture," a spokesperson for McDonald's said at the time.

People are confused about the flavor of Shamrock Shakes

We all know what a Shamrock Shake tastes like... don't we? Do some internet browsing, and you'll find there's actually a debate that's raging about just what a Shamrock Shakes tastes like. 

The Chicago Tribune says that when McDonald's rolled out their new Shamrock Shake flavors in 2017, they specified the flavor was mint, which is exactly what you expect it to be, given the color. Added that year were the Chocolate Shamrock Shake, the Shamrock Chocolate Chip Frappe, the Shamrock Hot Chocolate, and the Shamrock Mocha... flavor profiles that mix perfectly with mint.

But some people on the internet don't agree with that mint flavor, saying they can detect other, non-mint flavors in the Shamrock shake. 

The debate on this happening on The Straight Dope boards is a perfect example of the controversy, with posters claiming they're mint, lime, or just plain old vanilla with green dye added. Some say the mint flavor is so strong it tastes like toothpaste. Some people even believe they're all three flavors at once. Surprisingly, most of them have it right. It just depends on when they tasted the Shamrock Shake...

The original flavor of the Shamrock Shake was... different

You probably wouldn't even recognize those first Shamrock Shakes as being the same product now served up every spring at McDonald's. First of all, Coca-Cola says they weren't called Shamrock Shakes, they were the decidedly less catchy "St. Patrick's Day Green Milkshake." Straightforward and to the point, maybe, but definitely lacking in creativity.

What was inside of the cup was just as different. The first few years the green milkshake was sold, starting in 1970, the shake was a weird concoction of lemon-lime sherbet, vanilla ice cream, and vanilla syrup. In 1973, they switched to a plain vanilla shake with green coloring. 

It wasn't until 1983 that McDonald's unveiled the mint-flavored shake we know and love today. More than likely, this is where the flavor controversy stems from — even though it's remained unchanged for more than three decades. 

Uncle O'Grimacey is a big part of Shamrock Shake history

The Shamrock Shake once had its own questionably tasteful mascot, and his name was Uncle O'Grimacey. If the name alone didn't make you cringe, check out the commercial

Uncle O'Grimacey was a formal part of McDonald's lore, says The Daily Meal, and fortunately, he was only around for a few years. He was the Irish uncle of Grimace, and looked exactly like his purple nephew. The only difference was that Uncle O'Grimacey was green. He essentially showed up when the Shamrock Shakes did, wore green, and carried a shillelagh... because, of course he did.

Apparently, not enough people caught on the Uncle O'Grimacey hype, because he disappeared pretty quickly. Uncle O'Grimacey was around for Shamrock Shake seasons in 1977 and 1978, and then was never seen again.

But have you tried the Shamrock Shake with right straw?

McDonald's only recently added other Shamrock Shake-inspired offerings, and for years, getting a half-chocolate, half-mint version of the shake was a semi-secret that Hack the Menu says was given the rather dubious name of the McLeprechaun Shake.

Now that it's an official menu item, people needed to figure out how to make sure they were getting the optimal ratio of chocolate to mint (and, let's be honest: it's mint now, not lime). Enter, the STRAW, which Co. Design says stands for the Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal. It was designed — or, more accurately, engineered — by NK Labs, who described the whole scenario as presenting "...quite a few engineering and scientific challenges."

They're no slouches either. They've worked with Google, NASA, and DARPA, and now, they've worked with McDonald's. With help from around 100 shakes (give or take), they engineered a weird, J-shaped straw with some conveniently placed holes that would ensure the perfect flavor ratio. You had to be quick to get the original run, as only about 2,000 were distributed across 80 cities. If you were lucky enough to get one — or maybe to score on eBay — it's worth holding on to all year long just to get that perfect sip of Chocolate Shamrock Shake.

Jimmy Fallon bought a city's worth of Shamrock Shakes

If you happened to be in New York City in 2010 and you came down with a hankerin' for a Shamrock Shake, Gothamist reports you might have been sorely disappointed. You can thank Jimmy Fallon for creating a temporary shortage of Shamrock Shakes when he just went ahead and bought them all.

New York had been without Shamrock Shakes for years (they hadn't went national at this point), and when they finally returned, everyone was overjoyed. That is, until they sold out pretty quickly, thanks to our favorite late night talk show host.

How many did Fallon buy? Lots. The McDonald's in Union Square reportedly ran out after some madman went in and ordered 100, and if you're wondering how he carried all those through the city streets, well, you're not the only one wondering. It wasn't immediately clear what was going on, but amid this mysterious shake shortage, Fallon ended one of his shows by gloating over his own Shamrock Shake, and handing one out to everyone in the audience. Mystery solved.

The Shamrock Shake is so bad (for you)

Sure, you're not heading into McDonald's for a Shamrock Shake thinking that it's good for you, but you might be surprised at just how bad it really is. According to McDonald's nutritional information, a large Shamrock Shake (because seriously, who just orders a small) contains a whopping 790 calories and 22 grams of fat. A heart-stopping 14 grams of that is saturated fat, and you'll also be putting away 112 grams of sugar.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. That same shake will give you about 50 percent of your daily calcium, so that's a plus.

Now, let's put that in perspective. Order a Big Mac, and you're getting 540 calories and 28 grams of fat, along with less saturated fat and way less sugar (only 9 grams). Never thought you'd look at a Big Mac as a healthier option, did you?

The Shamrock Shake funded a very special project

The 42 says the Shamrock Shake isn't just another pretty dessert, it has its roots in a great cause — one that most of us are probably familiar with.

In 1974, a Philadelphia girl named Babe Canuso was diagnosed with leukemia. After the doctors worked their magic and Babe went home, her father, John, was looking for a way to help other families in similar situations, especially those who might not have been so lucky. Up until that point, parents of sick children were sleeping on cots in hospital hallways. When those doctors asked John, a home builder, about building a house near the hospital where parents could stay while their kids were undergoing treatment, the seeds of an idea were planted. 

That idea became the Ronald McDonald House, and Canuso raised the money to build that first house with help from Philadelphia Eagles GM Jimmy Murray. Murray was already involved with fundraising to help offset the costs of leukemia treatments (a cause he took up after the diagnosis of the daughter of Eagles' tight end Fred Hill). Murray pitched the idea of a green milkshake fundraiser to tie in with St. Patrick's Day to McDonald's, and it was a huge success. Sales were good (McDonald's donated 25 cents from every milkshake sold), funds were raised, and an old fraternity house was bought and remodeled into the very first Ronald McDonald House.

More than one inventor claims the Shamrock Shake as their own

According to official McDonald's lore, the first Shamrock Shake was sold in Chicago in 1970 (via The 42). But there's a second version of the tale, and it's told by the Rosen family. According to Mark Rosen (via the Hartford Courant), his father invented the Shamrock Shake four years before its 1970 debut.

The Rosens say they developed the green shake at their Enfield, Connecticut McDonald's as a special promotional item for St. Patrick's Day. Patriarch Harold Rosen had experience in the dairy manufacturing business, and his son says there were a number of different variations on the idea before they settled on the final. mint-flavored product. The younger Rosen said he and his family were proud to have the Shamrock Shake associated with the legacy of the Ronald McDonald House, and adds that the name was designed to not reveal a flavor, but to be a bit mysterious. That was to get people in the door, and spark not a little bit of curiosity about what this green bit of deliciousness tastes like.

Even the Smithsonian isn't sure who to give credit for the green shake to, saying it could be either Rosen in 1966, or in 1970 by McDonald's itself. No matter who invented the Shamrock Shake, we're all very glad that they did.

The Shamrock Shakes are still sold for charity, but not always the same one

Not every Shamrock Shake you buy is for a good cause — beyond your own enjoyment, that is (that's good enough for us!). But a lot of them are, because there's a good number of McDonald's locations that still use them as a fundraising tool. That connection was very, very visible in 2010 and 2011, when a giant version of the Shamrock Shake, tipped on its side, was floated down the Chicago River to appear to by turning the river green. The river was already dyed green, of course, but the big, spilled shake was a reminder to pick up a shake in support of the Ronald McDonald House. It worked, says Delish, and it raised about $10,000 each year.

Other franchises have turned Shamrock Shakes into fundraisers for the Ronald McDonald House on a more local level, though each franchise can now choose whatever charity they wish when it comes to the shakes. In 2015, San Diego stores donated $1 per Shamrock Shake sold to their local Ronald McDonald House (and also sold paper shamrocks for $1.) McDonald's locations across central Pennsylvania have done the same thing, donating money per shake (sometimes not even in the spring), and in 2017, Minnesota's KROC announced St. Patrick's Day sales were going to benefit the House again. It's not only delicious, but it's usually all to help a great cause. What's better than that?

You can booze up your Shamrock Shake

Shamrock Shakes are great, sure, but it's always possible to make things just a tad bit better. If you've never dressed up your Shamrock Shake in a cocktail glass and added some booze (after you've gotten home, of course), you're missing a major St. Patrick's Day opportunity here.

Let's start with an addition that's going to seem so, so obvious once we say it: Baileys Irish Cream. Add a healthy helping of this creamy liqueur (in either the original or chocolate cherry flavors), and you're going to wonder how you ever did without it.

If you get adventurous, there are a few other things you can try, too. Spike your shake with a dose of good, Irish whiskey or — and no, we're not kidding here — use some Guinness. Taste the drink as you go, and you'll probably find that you're pleasantly surprised at just how good Guinness is in a Shamrock Shake. We promise.

Just make sure little hands don't get a hold of your very grown up Shamrock Shake and of course, always drink responsibly. 

You can totally DIY your own Shamrock Shake

Shamrock Shakes, as we all know, are only available for a limited time. And even if you do hit up your local McDonald's during the right season, they may not be in stock.

If you can't find a Shamrock Shake at your local McDonald's, you can absolutely make one at home. It's easier than you might expect, too, and just requires a blender, some vanilla ice cream, whole milk, and a dash of peppermint extract. That's it! Add some green food coloring if you like, and you can satisfy that craving any time of the year.

You can get all that cold, creamy, minty goodness without all that fat and calories, too. Substitute vanilla frozen yogurt for the ice cream, use almond milk, and add a banana for texture, and all that pepperminty goodness you want. And since dark chocolate is always a welcome addition, substitute chocolate chips and leave off the whipped cream, then just go and grab a spoon. You'll need it!

McDonald's created the World's Largest Shamrock Shake in 2010

McDonald's is headquartered in the city of Chicago, and in 2010, it celebrated Shamrock Shake season in a distinctly Chicagoan way.

For St. Patrick's Day, McDonald's commissioned the "World's Largest Shamrock Shake" — a 24-foot-tall version, complete with whipped cream and a cherry — that was placed on its side along the banks of the Chicago River (via McDonald's). The fast-food giant took advantage of one of the Windy City's most famous traditions of dyeing the Chicago River green in celebration of St. Patrick's Day (via NPR). Placing the giant Shamrock Shake cup on its side gave the appearance that the tasty green treat had been poured into the river.

The marketing ploy was not merely a Shamrock Shake publicity stunt — there were more noble intentions tied to the event. According to McDonald's, the "World's Largest Shamrock Shake" was unveiled to honor the fast-food chain's $10,000 donation to help build a new Ronald McDonald House Charities location in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago. According to the nonprofit, the new house would be the largest of its kind in the world.

There was an auction for a Golden Shamrock Shake cup

The Shamrock Shake celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020, and you better believe McDonald's was going to celebrate the golden milestone in a seriously sparkly way.

A few weeks before St. Patrick's Day, the fast food chain announced it was auctioning off a special cup "designed to perfectly hold Shamrock Shake deliciousness" (via CNN). What made this cup so special? It was constructed of 18-karat gold and adorned with diamonds and emeralds. "There are 50 green emeralds and white diamonds – representing 50 years of Shamrock Shake flavor and delicious whipped topping," McDonald's said. "There are 50 yellow diamonds in each of the Golden Arches for 50 years of being a fan fave at McDonald's." The burger chain had the cup appraised for $90,000.

The Golden Shamrock Shake Cup was auctioned off on eBay. All of the proceeds went to Ronald McDonald House Charities. The international nonprofit, which has been in operation since 1974, provides housing and other resources to the families of children being treated at hospitals around the globe.