I’ve been asked many times why I named my (home)brewery Drowned Chipmunk. It all goes back to the first beer I brewed in college. I was given a kit for a red ale and thought I’d try it. The process went smoothly enough and it was getting close to the time to bottle the beer. I wanted to make a label for the bottles, but I couldn’t come up with any ideas for what to put on the label.
Outside of classes and playing Ultimate, the thing I was most into was whitewater kayaking. There were about a half dozen of us on campus who enjoyed getting out on the rivers and, to try to recruit more, we reserved some time in the college pool to teach people how roll a kayak. My girlfriend (now wife) was one of the people who came to practice her roll. When she first popped up, water was streaming down her face and her expression was equal parts excitement and surprise. For whatever reason, I thought she looked like a drowned chipmunk and let her know. Looking back on it, she took it much better than I think I would have.
The next day I decided I needed to make the labels and the only thing I could think to put on the labels was “Drowned Chipmunk”. It was not the imagery I wanted when drinking beer, but with Rouge’s Dead Guy, I figured it wasn’t too bad. Besides, it would only be for the first batch, then I’d come up with a better name.
A couple weeks later, the beer had had time to bottle condition and was ready to drink. I tried a bottle and was excited that it tasted like beer. If I had to be honest, I would have admitted it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but it was beer. We took a few bottles to a party and I was excited to see what people thought. One comment at that party changed Drowned Chipmunk from a one time name to the only name I’ve used since and I have no idea who the person was who said it. Someone asked a woman I’d never met who was drinking the beer if they should try it. Her response was, “Well, it’s not great, but considering a chipmunk drowned in it, it’s not bad.”
I decided that if calling the beer Drowned Chipmunk lower people’s expectations, that could only be good for me. I mean if they’re expecting it to be terrible and it’s only so-so, that’s a win!
Since then, I’ve improved my brewing skills considerably and although I still turn out less than stellar beer from time to time, I’ve kept the name. I’ve even started using it for other things I’ve made. Now, there’s Drowned Chipmunk wine, coffee, computer programs, cell phone apps and now a radio show. Most haven’t been shared with more than a few people, but even in small groups, it helps to lower expectations.