Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman is hoping that the residents of Texas are looking for a low-cal, low-carb beer the next time they visit their favorite watering hole or retail establishment. That is the impetus behind his entry into the beer business with the upcoming launch of a new beer named Eight after his former jersey number with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I think that the [light beer] products currently on the market right now have been there a long time, and consumers are looking for something new, something fresh,” Aikman said. “I have always been someone who takes his health seriously, so I felt that myself and the team behind Eight could make a better beer.”
Besides Aikman, who is the brand’s public face, the rest of the co-founders of Eight are seasoned packaged goods industry veterans. Doug Campbell was the former president of Brewery Ommegang, Ruchi Desai, a business and operations leader, and Jake Duneier, a brand strategist. They are joined by Brewmaster Phil Leinhardt, who has worked at Anheuser-Busch, Harpoon Brewery, and Brewery Ommegang.
The idea for the brand took root several years ago when Aikman was introduced to the others by a mutual friend. Once they decided to create a new product that would enter into the highly popular low-carb beer space, they spent several years developing their brand.
The crisp white cans sport a minimalist layout designed to draw attention to the product name and the categorization directly underneath it, Elite Light Lager. Call-outs also identify the product as having only 90 calories and 2.6 carbs while weighing in at 4.0% ABV.
By toe-to-toe with Michelob Ultra, the dominant brand in the space, they are hoping to succeed where many other brands have entered in the last few years, hoping to carve out some space. Molson Coors Blue Moon LightSky, Yuengling Light Lager, and Budweiser Select are a few more significant entrants. It is a challenge that Aikman looks forward to facing.
“If I was concerned with failure or not being successful, I don’t think I would have ever been the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys,” he says. “We put a lot of time and effort into this beer, and I believe it will succeed in Texas.”
Eight partnered with Oregon State University’s food science department to develop the recipe for the beer, an all-malt lager made with organic grains, Hallertau Tarus hops, and no sugars or fillers. Home to one of the largest college brewing programs in America, they spent two years crafting a beer made without any adjuncts to meet Aikman’s goal of a healthy beer that he could support.
Even though the beer is being brewed in New Orleans at Faubourg Brewing right now, they have headquartered in Austin to focus on the Lone Star State’s drinkers. Eight beer distributors have signed on for the February launch covering 90% of the state. As the second-largest beer-consuming state in America, Texas consumed 618.1 million gallons in 2019, only landing behind California’s 727.3 million; the opportunity for uncovering drinkers is high. Especially given Aikman’s legacy in Texas.
“If we only succeeded in Texas and never left its borders, I would be quite happy. Sure, the competitor in me wants to grow it to be as big as possible, but that is down the road,” he says. “Before we look beyond our borders, we need to score here.”
Eight will begin being poured on tap in restaurants and bars in February. It will roll out across the state in 6-pack, 12-packs, and 19.2 oz single-serve cans in March. The brand did an initial round of funding filled chiefly by friends and family and has plans to do another depending on the brand’s success. Aikman said he is fielding calls almost daily from folks wanting to get involved.
Largely being promoted by a grassroots campaign, and on the strength of Aikman’s name, though his moniker does not appear on packaging, Eight is rolling out a social media push to grow awareness of their product. They are actively recruiting a Texas-based community of “early risers” to be their brand ambassadors on their website. Dubbed the Eight Elite Athlete network, hopes are high that their continual posts and activity will help drive the brand’s growth.
The next few months will tell if Aikman can lead another team to victory or if his brand will go the way of other entrants to the space like Sierra Nevada’s Sufferfest and Molson Coors Saint Archer Gold. Either way, it’s safe to say that the state of Texas will soon be hearing more from one of their favorite sons.