Considering how whisky as a beverage category prides itself in the literal decades it takes to reach our glasses, it is only fitting that a distillery like The Macallan gifts us with prized releases that are accompanied by some of history’s greatest stories. Of the many sought-after whiskies that the Speyside distillery has produced, The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 is arguably its most famous.
Distilled in 1926 and bottled in 1986, a limited number of bottles of this 60-year-old expression exist in the world. In 2002, 14 of them were released as part of the Fine & Rare series.
One of them officially became the most expensive whisky ever to be sold when it went under the hammer at Sotheby’s for £1.5 million ($2.4 million) in 2019. The last bottle to hold that title was, incidentally, another Macallan 1926 from the exact same cask. However, it had a label that was hand-painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon and was the first bottle of whisky to sell for over a million pounds at £1.2 million.
The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 broke records from as early as 1987, when a New York-based wine merchant bought a bottle for £5,000, making it the priciest spirit ever sold at the time.
The woman behind The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926
Encapsulating the gung ho spirit of achieving firsts is Janet Harbinson, the former managing director of The Macallan, who was fondly known as Nettie. The Macallan celebrates the extraordinary life of Nettie, who crafted one of the most prized whiskies, in The Spirit of 1926, a beautiful eight-minute biopic.
Played by English actress Emily Mortimer, Nettie channeled her grief from losing her husband, Alexander Reid, the founder of The Macallan, who passed away in 1918 — mere months before the end of World War I, into continuing with his profound legacy.
She served the Speyside community and ensured the survival of The Macallan, which was ran by Alexander. After gaining control of the distillery, she oversaw its distillation and maturation process and crafted limited releases.
Nettie didn’t know she was filling the cask with The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926, which would turn out to be a future legend — she was just doing her job. And now, more than 90 years later, The Macallan gets to tell the world that it was a job exceedingly well done.
The film also celebrates Nettie’s strong sense of duty and passion for her craft by ensuring the survival of The Macallan and her family’s legacy, which in turn benefited the local community. The Spirit of 1926 was also mostly set in The Macallan’s picturesque 485-acre estate in Speyside, Scotland.
“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, shares Jaume Ferras, Global Creative Director for The Macallan and a producer of the film. “She cared deeply about others and was determined to use her position at The Macallan to enrich the lives of those around her.”
The film was directed by Mike Newell of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco fame, and the screenplay was written by Allan Scott, best known for writing Regeneration, Castaway, and co-creating The Queen’s Gambit.
But not many people know that Scott — whose real name is Allan Shiach — is actually Nettie’s great-nephew as well as the former chairman of The Macallan who made the decision to bottle the Fine & Rare 1926 in 1986. This association deepens the human connection between The Macallan’s precious liquids and the people who helped make them.
The 1920s outfits in the film are made by Scottish fashion designer Christopher Kane, who is internationally renowned for his eponymous label. They feature time-honoured fabrics from bespoke suppliers including lace and The Macallan’s signature tweed. The film’s emotive soundtrack is the brainchild of Scottish rock group Simple Minds.
“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,” adds Mortimer. “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.”
Watch the short film here.
In partnership with The Macallan.