Charisse McGill is a busy woman. She’s sold her French toast bites at the Made in America festival, Roots Picnic, the Piazza Pod Park, the Bronx Night Market, and Spruce Street Harbor Park, where she became the first Black woman operator this summer. The pandemic hasn’t slowed her down. This month, she’s serving up the crispy-chewy nuggets of golden-brown bread — plus hot apple cider and bacon on a stick — at City Hall’s Christmas Village, Cherry Street Pier, and the 700 Club.
But with the help of a local brewery, the Lokal Artisan Foods founder also found a way to bottle up her signature product and get it to thirsty customers all over the region: French Toast Bites Ale.
McGill’s bubbly energy, apparent in even brief exchanges, caught the attention of Doylestown Brewing Co.’s Joe Modestine, who messaged her earlier this year about collaborating on a French toast-flavored beer.
“‘Let’s do it,’” McGill said. But she had a condition: “I’m old-fashioned, so I had to meet him. I want to feel your vibe. We don’t have to be best friends, but I have to make sure you would be someone that I would invite over for a cookout or something.”
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French toast bites in hand, McGill went to Doylestown to meet Modestine. The pair hit it off. They talked about what kind of beer they might create. Together, they sampled the bites and the spice mix that McGill also sells. They contemplated what styles might be best. Modestine steered them away from dessert beers toward an easy-drinking ale that wouldn’t be too sweet.
McGill told Modestine she was putting her trust in him to make decisions — “because I’m not in the beer industry” — but that she wanted to be involved in every part of the process, including brewing the beer.
“He told me to wear rain boots up there. I’m like, ‘Joe, hold on. I only got, like, designer rain boots. Is it messy?’” McGill cracked up the Doylestown brewers when she turned up in Burberry boots. “They probably think I’m some kind of a city slicker.”
The brewing process was hot, messy, and wet, McGill said, but it was important to her to know how the product is made, start to finish. She returned weeks later to see the canning and labeling process, too.
The result is a creamy, deep amber ale with a dry finish and subtle hints of vanilla and cinnamon. “I think he nailed it,” said McGill, who added that she was surprised to discover there aren’t many Black women in the beer industry. And in Pennsylvania, where two Black-owned breweries are in the works but not yet opened, she seems to be the first Black woman to put her stamp on a professionally made beer.
Once word got out that she had made a beer (and history in the process), “all hell broke loose,” she said with a laugh. “We sold out. [Modestine] thought he made enough for a month supply and it sold out in a week and a half.”
More than half the supply went to the delivery service GoPuff — another collaboration that might lead McGill to new frontiers. After a GoPuff executive tried French toast bites at Spruce Street Harbor Park, he asked if the service might deliver them. It’s not feasible at the moment, because as McGill says, “I’m still married to the hot, fresh, made-to-order model.” But she has plans in 2021 to work with a food scientist on making her best-known snack more pantry-friendly.
In the meantime, more beer is on the way.
French Toast Bites Ale is sold in 4-pack 16-ounce cans for about $20 at select beer distributors and GoPuff. Also available at the Garden at Cherry Street Pier, 121 N. Columbus Blvd., and Local Tap, 527 S. Broad St., Lansdale. For a full list of retailers, go to lokalartisanfoods.com/french-toast-bites-beer.