McDonald's Shamrock Shake is back for St. Patrick's Day, but our easy homemade recipe has booze

A fast-food favorite gets a grownup update: Did you know that the original Shamrock Shake wasn't minty at all?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 15, 2021 10:30AM (EDT)

Shamrock Shake (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Shamrock Shake (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

In "Quick & Dirty," Salon Food's Mary Elizabeth Williams serves up simplified recipes and shortcuts for exhausted cooks just like you — because quick and dirty should still be delicious.

Like countless Irish Americans, I find St. Patrick's Day a real mixed pot o' gold. On the one hand, I'm proud of my heritage and my melancholy, pugilistic people. On the other hand, is there anything about the way the holiday is celebrated in the U.S. that isn't just . . . gross? Even as we mark our second restrained and pandemic-influenced March, the season is still a little too overwrought with green beer, public vomiting, boiled meats and Bono for my liking. Worst of all, though, are the shakes.

Growing up, I had a fraught relationship with McDonald's famed Shamrock Shake. Who doesn't love a once in a while item, like a Peep or a pumpkin spice latte? What sweeter words are there than "limited time only?" In my family, McDonald's was a rare treat, and the Shamrock Shake was the rarest of all. I still have happy memories, as vivid as the green liquid in my plastic cup, of sitting in a McDonald's booth with my cousins, our napkins flecked with French fry grease and our heads throbbing with seasonally induced brain freeze.

After all this time, can I now confess now my dark truth? Mint is disgusting. There. I said it.

RELATED: Elevate this year's casual St. Patrick's Day with a Jameson Mule — all you need are five ingredients

Why anyone would sully an eating experience with flavors associated with tooth brushing remains a lifelong source of bafflement to me. I can grasp the branding leaps of faith that must have been involved in the creation of the famed fast-food treat: What's Irish? Green things! What else is green? Mint! But we don't have to forever shackle ourselves to such arbitrary and (again) disgusting restrictions.

Did you know that the original Shamrock Shake wasn't minty at all? When the "St. Patrick's Day Shake" (as it was first known) was introduced in the '70s, it was more of a lemon-lime sherbet affair. It next enjoyed a decade-long run as a simple vanilla-flavored concoction embellished with green food coloring. The mint was introduced — like many other bad ideas — in the '80s. In other words, it's not canon, and we don't have to be precious about it.

So why not make like St. Patrick and drive the shakes out this year? Why not make something that plucks at your nostalgia chords but actually tastes the way you want it to taste? Maybe that means vanilla extract, or maybe it means coconut ice cream. Maybe it means something slightly different.

My daughter asked me recently if Shamrock Shakes have alcohol, because, as she put it, "I just assume anything Irish does." She had a valid point.  It seemed only right to explore that, so when I made a batch of shakes this week, I spiked mine with a shot of Jameson. I did so confidently, inspired by the example of the wonderful New York bakery Baked and the famed bourbon milkshake recipe from their cookbook.

Obviously, it was incredible, because ice cream and alcohol go together like Irish people and alcohol go together. Heady with vanilla, mellow with whiskey, this shake is, as they say in the old country, feckin' brilliant. Suddenly, this traditionally lame mid-March holiday seems a little more authentic.  


Recipe: Boozy Shamrock-ish Shake

Inspired by McDonald's and Baked's Matt Lewis

Serves 2 (or 1, no judgment!)


  • 2 cups of vanilla, coconut or white chocolate ice cream
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or mint, for a truer McDonald's vibe)
  • 6 - 10 drops of green food coloring (less if you're using gel)
  • 2 shots of whiskey (optional, but darn good!)
  • Whipped cream


  1. Add first five ingredients to blender, and blitz until well combined.
  2. Pour into individual glasses or mason jars, and generously top with whipped cream.
  3. Enjoy!

It's simple to make this recipe vegan: Just swap in your favorite non-dairy ice cream and milk!


More Quick & Dirty: 

Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. Salon has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Copycat Dessert Ice Cream Mcdonalds Quick & Dirty Recipe Shamrock Shake St. Patrick\'s Day