The onset of March brings many changes, like daylight saving time, the first day of spring, and bars around the country dyeing their beers green in preparation for the drinkiest holiday of the year. And in McDonald’s outposts across the land, one little menu change sparks a fury that only nostalgia could incite. I’m referring to the annual appearance of the Shamrock Shake, a minty-green beverage that’s developed a cult following even bigger than the McRib’s. Now that we’re well into March, these shakes are popping up all over the country, to the delight—and sometimes the disappointment—of customers.
Minty March Madness
Merely mentioning the Shamrock Shake to a couple of my coworkers caused dreamy, faraway looks in their eyes as they remembered childhood sips. The shake has gotten harder to come by since its 1970 inception, but the past few years have seen a resurgence to meet the demand of the masses, who’ve started online petitions, sent angry emails to corporate headquarters, and even started a Web site devoted to tracking Shamrock appearances. It wasn’t quite as popular back in the day, possibly because of the giant green leprechaun blob that was its mascot.
Uncle O’Grimacey was the Irish uncle of Grimace, a lovable goof from the McDonaldland era. He’s responsible for bringing Shamrock Shakes from Ireland to the United States and Canada every March, but since the 1990s he’s been falling behind (and fallen out of existence, ad-wise). The shakes started appearing only in select markets; for example, they were 86-ed from New York City for a while, supposedly because of low demand. But, as was the case with the McRib, removing them from menus only made people want them more. Thanks to public outcry, the shakes are making a bigger comeback these days—and with a fancy makeover to boot. According to USA Today, some McDonald’s locations are topping shakes with whipped cream and a cherry. Others have switched from paper cups to the plastic cups they serve coffee drinks in.
As Good as We Remember … or a Bunch of Blarney?
What hasn’t changed much over time is the foundation of the shake. It’s a basic vanilla milkshake with added mint flavor and green dye. Still, some have found the taste isn’t what it used to be. Blogger Marcus Leshock, of ChicagoNow.com, recently called them “ShamShakes” and declared in his column that “St. Patrick’s Day is ruined!” (He’s not a fan of the makeover.) Kyla Kyles, another blogger from that Web site, said she felt “sham-boozled” after two disappointing shakes this month. Others have charged Mickey D’s with undermixed shakes, a lackluster mint flavor, and the most egregious error of all—that the shakes no longer taste as good as they did back in the day. Well, that’s nostalgia for you. Nothing’s ever quite as amazing as we remember, particularly if we formed those memories with the underdeveloped palates of kids. Besides, if you’re looking for a high-quality milkshake experience, your first mistake was pulling into a McDonald’s parking lot.
But, if what you seek is a frosty, triple-thick trip down memory lane, or a way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day that doesn’t involve bright green Guinness (and bright green vomit later), get thee to McDonald’s before the month’s over and Shamrock Shakes leave our lives once again. The seasonal dessert drinks they’ve surely inspired along the way, like gingerbread milkshakes and peppermint mochas, only partially fill the hole they leave in their wake. Though perhaps, considering that they pack in about 1,100 calories, 26 grams of fat, and 168 grams of sugar—not to mention ingredients like corn syrup solids and cellulose gum—it’s for the best that our time with them is so limited. And if this commercial from the 1980s is accurate, you’ll dance off some of those calories anyway when the first sip makes you break out into an Irish jig. Shamrock Shake go bragh!