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By Amy Houston | Senior Reporter

November 16, 2022 | 5 min read

‘The Spirit of 1926’ tells the fascinating tale of Nettie Harbinson, who assumed control of the distillery after the sudden death of her husband just months before the end of the first world war.

Whisky brand The Macallan has a rich history, dating all the way back to 1824 when it became one of the first distillers in Scotland to be legally licensed. Over the years, many characters have played a part in its interesting story, but one particularly stands out – Janet Harbinson, or Nettie as she was affectionately known.

Harbinson serves as the inspiration for the brand’s epic 8-minute-long campaign film and is responsible for crafting the company’s most expensive export, The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926, which fetched an eye-watering £1.5m at Sotheby’s in 2019.

“It’s an interesting project,” says the brand’s creative director Jaume Ferras. “We’re revealing it today, but it started years ago.” The brief was simple: understand a little bit more about the history. “We look back to get inspired, looking at all the things that did well, or the things that didn’t do well, and learning from what we’ve done. It’s something that we do regularly, so it didn’t feel like a task.”

Using the past to build a legacy for tomorrow has been crucial to The Macallan. Throughout the film, Harbinson is portrayed as someone who persevered and stood up for her beliefs. “When you die, you’re going to leave something behind you that others can take forward, that’s Janet’s story,” notes Ferras. “I don’t think she was a businessperson as we understand today. She was not someone that had a big vision to change the world. She simply did something that most of us can do, which is just doing the right thing.”

Community has always been at the heart of the brand and the project combines the work of some of Scotland’s best creative talents. Fashion designer Christopher Kane worked on the costumes, Simple Minds provided the soundtrack and Allan Scott wrote the script. It just so happens that Scott is also the former chairman of The Macallan and a great-nephew of Nettie Harbinson herself.

“Scott wrote The Queen’s Gambit, which is one of the most successful Netflix series ever,” explains Ferras. “He said, ‘let’s look at her life, what she did, and we will write a story about it.’ That’s how it started."

“Having someone like Alan to write the story, with his understanding of the brand, this region, his connection with Janet and his film industry knowledge… everything just came together.”

It didn’t take much to convince Jim Kerr and his band to get involved either. After a short call with the Simple Minds frontman, he went away and wrote lyrics and then a few weeks later provided the music. “They are so proud of Scotland, it’s just pride. It’s a story about The Macallan, but it’s a story about Scotland as well. They were really engaged and excited. The result has been so good because they’ve put a lot of energy into it. They even decided to include the song in their latest album.”

Kane also became engrossed in all the little details required to make the film as accurate as possible, says Ferras. “Everybody wanted to tell the story and felt really close to it. That’s what made the difference. Sometimes that’s not easy, especially when you put so many different people with different backgrounds and expertise together.”

Creating beautiful things is at the heart of everything The Macallan does, taking inspiration from the Scottish landscape that surrounds its estate and from predecessors who helped shape the brand. “We certainly are unique,” concludes Feras. “I always say that we do one thing well, which is whisky.”

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