The Macallan has released a short yet compelling biopic sharing the true story of former managing director Janet Harbinson.
A remarkable figure in the brand’s rich history, Janet, affectionately known as “Nettie” was a woman with great vision and courage. Her story involves having had a hand in crafting the most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever to sell at auction to date – The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926.
The eight-minute campaign film is currently screening in selected cinemas globally and features on The Macallan’s website and YouTube. Celebrating Janet’s quiet heroism and encapsulating The Macallan’s brand values through her character, the film is as empowering as it is awe-inspiring.
Born in Elgin in 1869, Janet Isabella Harbinson was the daughter of Roderick Kemp, the owner of The Macallan from 1892 to 1909. He was widely considered the architect of the brand’s rise to prominence beyond Scottish borders. Janet was well-educated and invested in her father’s work well into adulthood.
In 1918, shortly before the end of the First World War, Janet lost her beloved husband, Alexander, who had been running the distillery at the time. The Great War brought death and destruction across Europe, making it an exceptionally challenging time. Although it was unheard of for a woman to lead, Janet bravely assumed the reins of the distillery. She recognised it was the most effective way to secure The Macallan for the sake of its employees and help the community she loved.
All the while, potential buyers circled like sharks as Janet hired the best advisors to learn from and made smart yet cautious investments towards rebuilding the community. Her care for those around her and dedication to protecting the distillery’s incomparable craftsmanship and creativity kept the business afloat.
Over the next 20 years, she reinvigorated The Macallan as overseer of its time-honoured distillation and maturation processes, maintaining stock and developing limited releases. Her visionary approach and dedication to craftsmanship safeguarded The Macallan after the war and laid the groundwork for its future.
Inadvertently, she crafted The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926, which commanded legendary status after fetching £1.5m at Sotheby’s in 2019 – which remains the most valuable bottle to date. The bottle’s existence is a direct legacy of Janet Harbinson’s commitment to doing the right thing for her family, the community and The Macallan.
“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,” Jaume Ferras, Global Creative Director for The Macallan and a producer of the film explains.
“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. Guided by her conviction and strong belief in doing the next right thing for everyone she cared about, she unconsciously made history and it is only right that we pay tribute to her,” he adds.
The Spirit of 1926
The short was filmed in Speyside, Scotland, within The Macallan’s stunning 485-acre Estate. It serves as a striking co-star alongside British-American actress Emily Mortimer in the role of Nettie. The Macallan collaborated with an impressive array of creative talents, including 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 for The Spirit of 1926 was by award-winning screenwriter Allan Scott. His repertoire includes Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Don’t Look Now, Castaway, and the recent Netflix hit, The Queen’s Gambit. Allan Scott is the alias of Allan Shiach – a former chairman of The Macallan and great-nephew of Nettie Robinson. In his tenure as chairman, Allan Shiach decided to bottle The Macallan Fine & Rare 1916 after 60 years of maturation in 1986. With the spirit determined to be at its peak, Harbinson’s descendant saw through her legacy, further reinforcing his deep personal connection to the impressive tale.
No detail was overlooked as Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane loaned his experience in designing the wardrobe for the short film. Globally renowned for his eponymous label, Kane created a series of 1920s outfits using historically accurate luxury fabrics sourced from artisanal suppliers. From hand-crafted lace to bespoke The Macallan tweed, Kane captures the essence of Janet’s personality through her style. In terms of sound design, Scottish rock group Simple Minds delivered the film’s exclusive soundtrack.
“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,” shares Emily Mortimer, who plays Nettie. In her view, the story is all about people who find their vocation in life and hold onto the memory of someone that they really love.
To Jaume Ferras, it was imperative to unite the best of Scottish creative talent to realise this vision of Nettie. “People who are also dedicated to the incomparable creativity and craftsmanship for which The Macallan is renowned. Each of our incredible collaborators has done a magnificent job of bringing to life our vision of Nettie. 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.”
Watch this intriguing story today on The Macallan website at www.themacallan.com