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 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 it, though, so let's talk.

The national takeover 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 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 1012 — it's also when the shake was given a bit of a makeover, and got topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

Ireland isn't McLovin' it

So, what does Ireland think of the Shamrock Shake? They're 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 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). 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. A formal complaint had been lodged by the American, Irish Catholic fraternity the Ancient Order of Hibernians, leading McDonald's to not only apologize but reaffirm how much they actually love Ireland.

People are confused about the flavor

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, they specified the original was mint. (Added were the Shamrock Chocolate Chip Frappe, the Shamrock Hot Chocolate, and the Shamrock Mocha.) But some people on the internet don't agree, saying they can detect other, non-mint flavors in the shake. This debate 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 people even believe they're all three flavors at once. Which flavor do you taste?

The original flavor was... different

You probably wouldn't even recognize those first Shamrock Shakes as being the same product now served up in every spring. Firstly, 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.

What was in the cup was just as different. The first few years it was sold, 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. Come to think of it, this might be where the flavor controversy stems from — even though it's remained unchanged for more than three decades. 

Remember Uncle O'Grimacey?

It's no real secret we've come a long way when it comes to things like political correctness and racial sensitivity, although some people have pointed out that where St. Patrick's Day is concerned, we have a long way to go. (Do you doubt? Just take a look at this "Drunk Lives Matter" shirt Refinery 29 found in 2017.) But the Shamrock Shake had its own questionably tasteful mascot, and his name was Uncle O'Grimacey.

If the name alone didn't make you cringe, check out that 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 essentially showed up when the Shamrock Shakes did, wore green, and carried a shillelagh… because, of course he did.

But have you tried it 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.

Jimmy Fallon bought a city's worth of 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.

How many did he 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.

It's so bad

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 is. According to McDonald's nutritional information, a large shake (because seriously, who just orders a small) contains a whopping 800 calories and 22 grams of fat. A heart-stopping 14 grams of that is saturated fat, and you'll also be putting away 113 grams of sugar.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. That same shake will give you about 60 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?

It 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.

In 1974, a Philadelphia girl named Babe Canuso was diagnosed with leukemia. After the doctors did their thing and Babe went home, her father, John, was looking for a way to help other families in similar situations. 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, and it was a huge success. Sales were good, funds were raised, and a house was bought and remodeled into the very first Ronald McDonald House.

More than one inventor claims it

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 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.

Sometimes they're still for charity

Not every Shamrock Shake you buy is for a good cause — beyond your own enjoyment, that is. 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 was installed on the banks of the Chicago River. The river was already dyed green, and 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 on a more local level. 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 25 cents per shake, 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 all to help a great cause. What's better than that?

Booze it up

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

You can totally DIY it

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!