When a customer overheard Guy Finlayson tell the story about a Chilean winemaker who plays jazz music to his wines, she was so fascinated that she swiftly picked up a bottle of Terroir Sonoro and headed straight for the till.
This spirited storytelling is what gives Guy and his brother Mungo’s independent drinks shop, The Strong Water Co, added depth and flavour.
A world away from the supermarket alcohol aisles where big brands dominate the shelves, the Banchory shop is like an “Aladdin’s Cave”, brimming with just under 1,000 independent brands from beers, whisky and wine to gin, rum and fizz.
And it’s not just the labels that do the talking, as Guy loves nothing more than blethering with his customers and sharing some of the intriguing stories behind the bottles stacked high on the shelves.
“An independent drink shop like this can be a really intimidating because the culture around wine drinking can be really knowledge based,” said Guy.
“So it’s really important to us to be knowledge based but also approachable and fun because a lot of the time it’s way too serious.
“What we do is all based around people and stories.
“It’s all very well having these products but what’s unique about us is the stories we share about the products and the people behind them.”
It was the brother’s gran Muriel who first gave him a taste for the drinks industry.
“My family have always had an interest in wine,” said Guy.
My gran Muriel used to live in France so we always had an interest in all things French and their culture including wine.”
Travelling the world
After leaving school, Guy took some time out to see some of the world, working on a marine project in Fiji before getting his hands dirty on a sheep farm in Australia.
Banchory Beer Festival
After returning to Banchory, Guy stacked shelves in a drinks shop before he and his brother Mungo set up MFGF Events, the company behind Banchory Beer Festival, True OriGINs – The Scottish Gin Festival and Inverurie Beer Festival.
Although Guy loves putting on drinks events, he missed meeting customers so he and his brother took a leap of faith and opened The Strong Water Co in November 2019.
“I really enjoyed doing drinks events but I always wanted to get back into retail because I like speaking to people, said Guy.
“The opportunity to open a shop was too good to miss as it’s in one of the best locations in the high street.”
Full of character
Transforming an empty shell of a building into a quirky shop was a labour of love for Guy.
“I didn’t want a super sterile, characterless shop with white walls, mirrors and white light that so many retailers are nowadays,” said Guy.
“I wanted something that people look at and think it’s interesting, it’s one of a kind really.
“I even made a light out of my old grandfather’s fishing rod which hangs from the ceiling.”
Food and drink pairings
From gin and champagne to whisky, wine and beer, row upon row of bottles sparkle in the sunlight as customers crane their necks take in the floor to ceiling displays.
But it’s not just the bottles catching the attention of customers as the shop also boasts some mouthwatering food options such as freshly prepped lobster, cheese and meat platters, oysters and even a dine at home service.
“The tins of Perello olives are our number one selling product,” said Guy.
“Then it’s whisky, local beers from Burnside Brewery and champagne.
“We also stock local gins like Esker, eeNoo made by Lost Loch Spirits and LBD Gin from Little Brown Dog Spirits.”
Inaugural single cask
Also holding its own is The Strong Water Co Single Cask Fettercairn 10- year-old whisky.
“It’s made at Fettercairn distillery so it was made 10-years ago and then sat in a barrel before we bought that cask of whisky,” said Guy.
Fruit and veg boxes
But just four months after opening, the shop’s doors were closed as the Coronavirus pandemic led to a national lockdown.
“When lockdown happened it was a bit of a shock,” said Guy.
“Luckily, we had supply chains into fruit and veg so we started doing fruit and veg boxes during lockdown and that really helped us a lot.”
With the mortar and bricks side of his business suddenly closed, Guy worked day and night to keep the business afloat by moving it online.
“Having the website was great as we’ve been sending orders worldwide,” said Guy.
“The furthest order was sent to Christchurch in New Zealand.”
With a glint in his eye and a smile across his face, it’s clear to see that Guy is buzzing to be back in his shop.
“I love meeting the customers when they come in,” said Guy.
“And if someone comes in and they don’t know what kind of whisky they like, it’s important for us to put a glass in their hand and discover what flavours they’re looking for and make educated decisions around that.”
Whisky subscription club
Looking to the future, Guy’s glass is certainly half full.
“To have done what we’ve done in the past year in the middle of everything is fantastic,” said Guy.
“I’m now thinking about starting a whisky subscription club so people can try the new whisky without committing to a bottle.”
A round of questions with Guy Finlayson
Tell us a secret trick of the trade?
Good products don’t have to have the best branding or jump off the shelf, sometimes the most understated products can provide the best surprises.
It’s the end of the day, what do you pour yourself?
In summer, it’s a glass of dry French Rosè.
Most unusual drink you’ve ever tried?
A corn on the cob liqueur, people are endlessly coming up with new and whacky products, some better then others! Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
What’s the most under-rated drink?
A Greek white, my current favorite is Assyrtiko Kir-Yianni.
What’s in your drinks cabinet at home?
Mainly whisky. I love how through so few ingredients there can be such an amazing array of flavours and it’s the perfect little night cap.
Best food and drink pairing?
Whisky and cheese.
If you were stuck on a desert island, what three drinks would be there with you?
Château Léoube Rosè, Burnside Brewery’s Sunset Song and Lost Loch Spirit’s eeNoo gin.
You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity a drink. What do you serve?
A dirty gin martini, it’s a good judge of character.