Marc and Audrey Leishman giving back through proceeds from beer

Marc LeishmanNot everyone can go to a restaurant and order a beer that bears your name – not to mention, one that you helped create.

Marc Leishman can, though.

Three years ago, the Aussie partnered with Back Bay Brewery to create Leishman Lager to serve at a gala for the Begin Again Foundation that he and his wife Audrey started after she recovered from a life-threatening bout with toxic shock and acute respiratory syndromes.

What originally was slated for a one-month limited release has proven extremely successful and remains a year-round feature at the brewery in Virginia Beach, where Audrey grew up and the couple lives with their three young children. It can be bought in grocery stores and ordered in about 100 local restaurants, bars and 19th holes in the area, with a portion of the proceeds going to the foundation.

“We went to them and then just sort of for the lack of a better word, it just blew up,” Leishman says. “It was a lot more popular than what they thought it was going to be. And now it's one of their best-selling beers. So, it's good. I'm enjoying it. It's nice being able to get it.”

While Leishman says he’ll occasionally order wine with a thick, juicy steak, beer is his adult beverage of choice. And he’s not just a consumer of Leishman Lager – “I really do like it,” he says with a smile – the four-time PGA TOUR winner was intimately involved in developing it.

Leishman wanted it to be a light beer, not unlike one from Australia called Furphy. The hops the brewers used even come from Down Under, a mixture of Pride of Ringwood (used in Foster’s and Victoria Bitters) and Helga, which brings in floral and citrus-like notes.

“I'm not smart enough to know what I want to put in beers and all that to make it taste a certain way,” Leishman says. “So, I left that to the brewers, but I did put the hops in the first batch.

“Apart from that, I'll sort leave it up to them. We've tweaked it a little bit here and there. For the most part, it's pretty similar to how it was the first batch.”

Travis Powell, who is the head brewer at Back Bay, says he and Leishman talked extensively about the kinds of commercially-available beers he likes to drink before putting the brew together.

“And I worked from there, and I develop the process to get to those final flavors,” Powell says. “And it's a trial and error, we adjusted the recipe every time we brewed it, to try to make it more for what we want -- mostly for what Marc wants, really.

“So, he wanted a little bit of floral components and a little bit of citrus in there. He definitely didn't want anything really heavy on the malt or really strong in the hops.”

One of the hardest things, Powell says, is to get Leishman to offer constructive criticism because he’s such a nice person. The beer, which takes 4-5 weeks from brewing to consumption, is always subject to tweaking, much like the Aussie works on his golf game.

“I'd rather somebody tell me the negatives about the beer, than all the positives,” Powell says. “I want them to help me make it better. So, it's kind of hard pulling it out of him. I'll usually say things because he won't tell me. …

“I’ll say like, ‘Oh, you know, I think it might have a little too much front-end hops. What do you think about dialing it back like 10 percent?’ And then he'll be like, ‘No, I actually like it,’ or he'll say like, ‘Oh that's a great idea, mate.’”

Powell worked as a formulation chemist for four years out of college before he got “tired of real life” and decided to follow his passion. He and Leishman, who live near each other but didn’t know each other before this project, bonded over their shared love of beer. He even delivered the first keg to Leishman’s house.

“We always joke and say, ‘It's a beer for the fairway,’” says Powell, who attended the 2013 Masters where Leishman finished fourth and watched the Aussie play never knowing the two would work together. “Something that's just easy, light. Something you can have for 18 holes.”

Leishman is the first professional athlete that Back Bay has partnered with, although it has done specialty brews before. The brewery, which offers 16 beers at one facility and 12 at its other bar, is putting out a beer called VB Strong with the proceeds benefitting the families of the tragic shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building last month.

“We like partnering with organizations,” Powell says. “We like charitable organizations as well. The owners who started Back Bay did it originally for something that's fun and something for the community.”

When the Begin Again Foundation came calling, it was important to both parties that the beer stand on its own. Having Leishman’s name on it was a plus, but everyone wanted a beer that was drinkable and commercially viable.

The label, designed by Back Bay’s in-house artists, actually pays tribute to Leishman’s homeland rather than golf. Inside the brewery’s signature swan, there’s a shield with elements of the Australian flag flanked by kangaroo and an emu.

“It's funny,” Powell says. “There's a lot of people who think the name is familiar, but on our logo there's not a whole lot showing that it's a golfer. So, people who aren’t into golf might not know it.”

The beer has been available on draft for several years now. Recently, though, it was canned for the first time and the first 7,200 sold out in less than a month. Plans are being made to make the beer available outside of Virginia, once the tax and trade approvals are complete and distributors are found.

Who knows, maybe one day, Leishman’s friends back home in Warrnambool will get to drink their favourite son’s beer.

“We were actually joking about that,” says Powell, who has relatives in Sydney. “I'm like, ‘You know, I think we really need to do a remote tasting room for the Leishman Lager in Australia.’ And he's like, ‘Oh I would love to do that.’”