The Macallan’s inspirational biopic, The Spirit of 1926, brings Janet “Nettie” Harbinson to the fore, in memory of the extraordinary woman behind the world’s most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction – The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 Single Malt Whisky.
Fondly known as “Nettie”, Janet Harbinson is a remarkable figure in The Macallan’s history. In 1918, just months before the end of the First World War, her beloved husband Alexander, who had been running the distillery at the time, sadly passed.
It was an exceptionally challenging time; the Great War had wreaked death and destruction across Europe. Despite receiving offers to buy The Macallan, Nettie remained deeply devoted to the family’s legacy and local community and assumed control of the distillery as it was the best way to secure The Macallan for its employees and help the community.
Through her passion and care for those around her and her dedication to craftsmanship, she kept the business afloat and helped to rebuild the local area. Above all, she crafted The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926, which achieved legendary status after it fetched a whopping £1.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2019.
“Guided by her conviction and strong belief in doing the next right thing for everyone she cared about, Nettie unconsciously made history,” said Jaume Ferras, global creative director of The Macallan.
Distilled in 1926 before being laid to rest in sherry seasoned Cask No. 263 for 60 years, few could have foreseen this renowned whisky’s astonishing future when it was originally crafted. However, its esteemed status would not have been achieved without Janet Harbinson’s profound commitment to The Macallan and her visionary approach to securing stock.
The precious contents were divided into 40 bottles with 12 bottles released featuring a label designed by world renowned pop artist Sir Peter Blake and a further 12 artworked by Italian painter Valerio Adami. A one-off bottle was also released in 1999 featuring a label depicting Easter Elchies House by Irish artist Michael Gibbons.
Today, The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 continues to be the world’s most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction. Its very existence is a direct legacy of Janet Harbinson’s commitment to doing the right thing for her family, the community and The Macallan.
Attributing the core values of The Macallan to its 20th-century matriarch, Ferras remarked, “There are some people who take what they do very seriously and care, not just about the product they’re producing, but about the people who work for them and what they are adding to the world. There’s something about that whisky, that was made under her watch in 1926, that symbolises the heart of the company and what The Macallan whisky is all about.”
“There are some people who take what they do very seriously and care, not just about the product they’re producing, but about the people who work for them and what they are adding to the world.”
Charged with leading the present Whisky Mastery Team, Kirsteen Campbell, the first female whisky maker in the almost 200-year history of The Macallan, admires greatly the care and craftsmanship of her predecessors, particularly Nettie, and holds the pioneer in high regard. According to Campbell, “It takes remarkable skill and craftsmanship to deliver a high aged whisky and know when the time is right to bottle it. Its very existence is testament to the mastery of wood and spirit that has driven The Macallan since it was established in 1824.”
In the following episode of Masterworks: Expert Voices, Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Wine, and Geoff Kirk, The Macallan’s director of prestige, discuss the company’s most prized vintage —The Macallan 1926 60 Year Old which was distilled almost a century ago and aged in the finest oak casks:
THE SPIRIT OF 1926, IN TRIBUTE TO NETTIE
In honour of Janet “Nettie” Harbinson, The Macallan has released a short biopic revealing the real-life story of the former managing director, Janet Harbinson, mother of the most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction – The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926. Set in Speyside, Scotland, primarily at The Macallan’s beautiful 485-acre Estate, the eight-minute film, which will be screened in selected cinemas globally and available on The Macallan’s website and YouTube, celebrates Nettie’s quiet heroism and her profound legacy and encapsulates The Macallan’s brand values in her character.
Elaborating on the significance of the film, Jaume Ferras, who is also a producer of the film, said, “We uncovered Janet Harbinson’s story when researching the background to The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 and we knew we had to share it as soon as we learned of her role in its distillation and maturation, as well as the deep influence she had on the future development of the brand.”
“At its heart, this is a love story; it celebrates the love that Nettie had for her husband, her love for the local community, her love for nature and her love for the family business. She cared deeply about others and was determined to use her position at The Macallan to enrich the lives of those around her.”
To create the short film, The Macallan collaborated with an exceptional array of leading talent including acclaimed director Mike Newell, whose credits include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Mona Lisa Smile and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The script was written by award-winning screenwriter Allan Scott, whose Hollywood hits include Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Don’t Look Now, Castaway and the recent Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. Allan Scott is the pen name of Allan Shiach – a former chairman of The Macallan and great nephew of Nettie Harbinson. As chairman, Shiach took the decision to bottle The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 after 60 years of maturation in 1986, amplifying further his deep personal connection to the remarkable story.
“Film is in The Macallan’s DNA. Our whisky has appeared in the background of many movies and TV shows, even taking centre stage on occasion, and our former chairman Allan Shiach is an award-winning screenwriter.”
Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane created a series of 1920s outfits for the film using historic, luxury fabrics from artisan suppliers including hand-crafted lace and bespoke The Macallan tweed, while Scottish rock group Simple Minds delivered the film’s exclusive soundtrack.
The film will see British-American actress Emily Mortimer serve the important role of bringing the historical figure of Janet “Nettie” Harbinson to life. The Independent Spirit Award-winner described the film as “a story about people finding their vocation in life. It’s about holding onto the memory of someone that you really love.”
Inspired by the resolve of Nettie, Ferras noted, “Turning Nettie’s story into a film was a huge challenge, but a bit like Janet herself, we felt compelled to follow the courage of our convictions and give her contribution the treatment it truly deserves.”
“We can never repay her for her wisdom, her courage, her care and her craftsmanship, but we hope through our film our gratitude as a brand shines through.”