French Toast Bites Ale, a Christmastime hit, is back, in a big way.
Charisse McGill, the entrepreneur behind the popular French Toast Bites snack sold at her Lokal Artisan Foods stands at festivals throughout the region, has revived the sugar-and-spice flavored beer that sold out its initial production run from a smaller brewer in December 2020.
McGill has a major partner behind her. Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Co., which recently brewed its first 200-barrel run at its plant at 500 Spring Garden St., has added it to its product line, distributed throughout Philadelphia, Eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware.
The beer officially debuts Thursday, May 20, in grocery stores, bottle shops, bars, and restaurants, as well as through the delivery service goPuff. Yards carries cans and drafts at its taproom and shop, and on opening day, McGill and Lokal will give away French Toast Bites and toppings from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with the purchase of a four-pack or order of a draft.
The idea for such a beer came from Joe Modestine at Doylestown Brewing Co., who was intrigued by the French Toast Bites and impressed by McGill’s grit.
Their first batch was supposed to take a month to sell but was gone in less than a week. But Doylestown could not handle the volume while it builds a new brewery in Hatfield that will do contract work — essentially helping new brands launch into the market, Modestine said.
» READ MORE: French Toast Bites debuts in ale form
“You have the holiday season, and people are asking, ‘Where’s the French toast beer? I want to give it as a gift to my son in California,’” McGill said. “And then you have Black History Month, no beer. Then you have Women’s History Month, no beer. So my anxiety was getting the best of me.”
Running out so soon was frustrating, said McGill, who had enjoyed her first taste of being a part of an industry with few Black women. (In Pennsylvania, where two Black-owned breweries are in the works, she may be the first Black woman behind a professionally made beer.)
McGill needed a new brewery.
Dave Goldman at Urban Village Brewing Co. in Northern Liberties suggested Yards, and its CEO, Trevor Prichett, got on board. “When we met Charisse, we were drawn to her spirit and positive energy,” Prichett said.
Rather than simply adapt the original beer recipe, they rethought it.
“How do we really capture that French toast character in a beer?” Prichett said. “Charisse gave us one of her postcards with the pictures of the bites. We said, there’s that amber color that we have to hit. And now we need to also capture the cinnamon and brown sugar and nutmeg and subtle vanilla.” French Toast Bites themselves are not part of the recipe, just the flavorings.
After a few refinements, it was ready for production.
It’s 5.5% ABV and will be available year-round.
McGill, now 39, tracks her professional turning point to 2018, when she quit her full-time job as director of special events for Valley Forge Military Academy and College to open a stand selling cups of French toast pieces topped with maple syrup, whipped cream, fresh strawberries, chocolate, powdered sugar, and bacon outside Philadelphia City Hall.
McGill had plenty of experience in outdoor vending, as she was the longtime manager of the Lansdale Farmers Market. Lokal, initially seeded by a loan from the lemonade business operated by her daughter, Madison, now 15, quickly expanded to other stands, mainly pop-ups, and persevered over the pandemic.
She now has permanent stands at Cherry Street Pier and Spruce Street Harbor Park, and has developed a French Toast Bites coffee line with Bean2Bean. (The beer is not available at the stands.)
At the time she started Lokal, McGill was just short of her MBA in food marketing at St. Joseph’s University. So she re-enrolled. “Most people go back to school to get a better job or to increase their pay or get a promotion,” said McGill who will receive her degree on Saturday. “I went back to quit my job because I refuse to pay $60,000 to get another company rich. I have my own million-dollar sales goals.”