How Janet ‘Nettie’ Harbinson, the first female managing director of The Macallan, unconsciously distilled the world’s most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction
“I know and love this place. I can add, subtract, buy and sell. What else is there?”
Those utterances of raw emotion were expressed by Janet ‘Nettie’ Harbinson, the esteemed and influential former owner of The Macallan, in The Spirit of 1926. Nettie’s fiery riposte in the eight-minute campaign film was a response to belligerent stakeholders who had pushed her to sell the legendary distillery upon the unexpected passing of her husband, Alexander Harbinson. Alexander, who presided over the distillery until then, had died during World War I, leaving Nettie to soldier on with the company amid tumultuous times.
Set in the panoramically lush area of Speyside in the Scottish Highlands—the site of the brand’s 196-hectare estate—and reverentially directed by Mike Newell, The Spirit of 1926 is an evocative film that serves as a stirring homage to Nettie’s defiant spirit, pursuit of excellent, and everything the whisky-making house stands for.
Portrayed by actress Emily Mortimer in The Spirit of 1926, Nettie is central to The Macallan’s story. Under her care, the distillery not only endured untold challenges but absolutely thrived. It blossomed from, as described in the film, a “whisky business built on a hill beside pure, clear water, at a place called Macallan” to a bona fide gold-standard in the arena of single malt whisky.
Taking pride of place among Nettie’s numerous accomplishments is The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926. Distilled by her in 1926, the bottle stands tall today as the world’s most valuable bottle of wine or spirit ever sold at auction. Since its 2019 sale at Sotheby’s for the record-breaking sum of £1.5 million, that bottle—and its exquisitely earthy and treacly payload that Nettie had painstakingly brought into the world—is testament to her creativity, resolve and, most of all, fierce protection of The Macallan’s philosophy and values that have been enshrined since its founding in 1824.
In The Spirit of 1926, we bear witness to Nettie’s legacy through her conviction and work—values that were shaped by love, craft, and, above all, care. Without a doubt, Nettie is The Macallan. It is through her determination to continue with the business and, in doing so, rebuilt the local community and pushed the company with superlative creations, that whisky aficionados can appreciate The Macallan’s unmatched and authentic craftsmanship.
It would have been easy for Nettie to buckle under pressure and sell the business all those years ago. Thank goodness, she did not. And almost 100 years after it was forged by her hand, The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 exists as a beacon of excellence and inspiration. More than a storied legacy, it is an ongoing testament to The Macallan’s—and, of course, Nettie’s—unyielding spirit.