The sunrise tries to cut through the Scottish sky, a patchwork of gray quilts with a cold mist leaking through. I look up to admire the view of the Dornoch Castle Hotel from the garden, a collection of neatly stacked gray stones that form a modest castle to match its humble village surroundings. Phil Thompson is leading me out to the distillery, a former village firehouse turned garage when the Thompson family took over the hotel in 2000. Large slabs of misshapen stone cemented together around vivid red-painted doors give the distillery a quaint, rural Scottish feel. Dressed in a warm, zip-up pullover and a blue beanie, Phil shuffles through the crisp November morning air and escorts me through the side door.
Inside, an enlarged chemistry set is revealed. Pipes and hoses of various color and size connect to steel tanks and something like an elongated copper Chemex. A quiet stream of water flows down a maroon-colored chute into one of the tanks. That water, the same that gives life to these hushed hillsides and timeless towns throughout the Scottish Highlands, is the fundamental ingredient of a drink lionized throughout the world.