Troy Aikman has been in the car business, the chicken-wing business, and the brick business, and now the former Dallas Cowboy is getting into the beer business. Starting in February, Texans will be able to order the low-cal, low-carb Eight—named after Aikman’s former number—on tap in bars and restaurants; in March, it’ll launch in stores. Like the Alamo and really good barbecue, you’ll only be able to find it in the Lone Star State, at least for now.
Curious about what Eight tastes like (and what it would be like to kick back for an afternoon with a three-time Super Bowl winner), I drove to Aikman’s mansion in a swanky neighborhood not far from downtown Dallas a few days before Christmas. He swung open the front door before I could knock.
The quarterback led me around a tall Christmas tree decorated with gleaming silver balls and past framed close-ups of a tiger and a lion that he had photographed in Africa. In his office, we settled in front of a crackling fire and a coffee table that held two books: The Untethered Soul by Michael Alan Singer (a guide to meditation) and a photo book about the Cowboys. Buster, the former football player’s nine-year-old French bulldog, wandered in and out a few times, wheezing softly. Aikman, now 55, with two college-aged daughters and a successful gig as a Fox Sports analyst, took a slug from a gallon container full of water, then began to tell me about his new venture.
Aikman has a long history with the malted beverage industry. When he was a nineteen-year-old college student, just before he transferred from Oklahoma to UCLA, Sooners football coach Barry Switzer suggested he apply for a summer job at a friend’s Miller distributorship in Tulsa. The young quarterback landed the gig. For three months during the summer of 1986, he loaded and unloaded delivery trucks and built product displays in stores. Even after he signed with the Cowboys in 1989 as the number one NFL Draft pick, Aikman did occasional projects with Miller distribution in Dallas. Eventually, he starred in national TV commercials for the beermaker.
Then Doug Campbell, the former president of Brewery Ommegang in New York, along with Ruchi Desai, a business and operations leader, and Jake Duneier, a brand strategist, approached Aikman about creating a beer for fitness enthusiasts. “I drink beer and always have liked beer,” he tells me. “But I never imagined I’d be the one making the beer.”
Brewmaster Phil Leinhart, formerly of Anheuser-Busch, Harpoon Brewery, and Brewery Ommegang, handles the actual creation of the beer. But Aikman has spent time tromping around hop fields in Oregon. He’s also invested more than a few hours taste-testing beers to come up with the final product, which was developed over two years of research in a partnership between Eight and Oregon State University’s food science department.
The light, all-malt lager is made with organic grains, Hallertau Taurus hops, and no sugars or fillers. It’s brewed at Faubourg Brewing Company in New Orleans, which is owned by billionaire Gayle Benson, who also owns the New Orleans Saints, along with the NBA franchise the New Orleans Pelicans. (The Eight headquarters is located not in Dallas, despite Aikman’s obvious connections there, and not in New Orleans, thank goodness, but in Austin, known for its love of fitness and the outdoors.)
Aikman paused to take another slug from his massive jar of water. It’s part of a health regimen that includes thirty minutes of meditation on a chair in his walk-in closet every day, plus pedaling a stationary bicycle and lifting weights in his home gym, doing yoga, and taking long walks on his “days off.” (He’d like to do a triathlon one day, but needs to work on his swimming skills first.) He’s cut dairy, most carbs, and processed foods out of his diet, and sleeps at least seven but usually eight or nine hours a day. Which is to say that even though Aikman retired from football in 2000, taking care of his body and not eating or drinking junk remains important to him. According to him, so is toasting the good stuff.
“Life is full of special moments and small victories. I think those moments and those times need to be celebrated, and at least for me, those usually involve beer,” Aikman said. “[But] the amount of work I put in during the week with lifting, cardio, mindfulness, and sleep—I don’t want all that to be compromised because I want to go celebrate.” Eight has 90 calories and 2.6 grams of carbohydrates per twelve-ounce can, whereas other American beers typically have between 140 and 175 calories and 10 to 15 grams of carbs. Aikman and his partners are betting that their ideal consumer is ready to give up those extra 50 calories.
Campbell, co-CEO of Eight, puts it another way. “This beer is made for the kind of person who reads the back of the label,” Campbell told me. He thinks Texans—“especially those particularly fastidious about what they put in their body”—will embrace it. He says Eight is built for fans who exercise “religiously,” “consume choicefully,” and—in his words—“generally try to be better humans.”
Aikman and I, good humans both, started drinking in his office at about 2 p.m. He poured me a cold one in a glass and cracked open a can for himself. “I like a fast finish,” he said as we sipped. “I don’t want to drink a beer and have an aftertaste. I don’t want a hoppy-tasting beer. That was the most important thing for me.”
I usually prefer beer with more meat on its bones, but this tasted just fine, in that cold-one-on-a-hot-day sort of way, only with more flavor than a typical light beer and a barely noticeable hint of citrus. It avoided the “watery” taste of some light beers, too. (When Aikman first poured me a glass, it looked slightly hazy, which prompted me to ask if it was unfiltered, like some German wheat beers. Turns out it was an early batch. When company officials noticed this later, they scheduled the delivery of another sample to my home, assuring me it would be more clear.)
Aikman says he doesn’t have an endgame in mind for Eight. “I’ve been asked, ‘Are you going to move [Eight] outside of Texas?’ Maybe, but maybe not,” he said. “I just want it to be a great beer that’s well received, we sell a lot of it, and people really enjoy it.” As a true Cowboy would understand it, “people” here means “Texans.”