Meet the Team that are Restoring the Legend



John is a highly respected drinks industry veteran, with over 30 years’ experience in the sector, including 22 years with Diageo, where he held senior roles in sales, marketing and general management within Ireland, Europe and the Middle East. John also worked with Walsh Whiskey in Carlow, Ireland.

In 2021 John joined Belfast Distillery Company as CEO and is building the team which will bring distilling back to Belfast – via a new distillery to be built on a historic landmark site in Belfast city.

In his spare time John enjoys playing golf, coaching and ferrying his children around to their various sports events, ‘and best of all, watching from the sidelines’.



A chartered accountant, Patrick has worked at senior management and executive level in multi-national publicly traded companies, and in medium to large sized private enterprises. Working in a diverse range of sectors including construction, pharma, packaging, dairy processing and more recently banking, Patrick brings proven and extensive finance experience to the team.

Patrick graduated in accounting at Ulster University and received his professional training in Belfast and Hong Kong with PwC. 

Patrick’s interests include golf, rugby union, walking, music, dining out (or experimenting, with mixed results, with recipes at home).

Graeme Millar

Master Distiller

Graeme Millar is our Master Distiller and our Head of Supply and Distillery Operations. He lives in Newtownabbey with his partner Yvonne and son Callum. Following his studies of Food Technology at Loughry College, he has over 20 years’ experience in the food and drinks industry. During this time Graeme has completed an MBA and The Institute of Brewing and Distilling Diploma in Distilling. Graeme has been a Head Distiller in the Irish Whiskey industry for 8 years, however before this he held numerous senior roles within the food and drinks sector, which included being part of the team that built a rum distillery in the Caribbean, and the development of a well-known Irish Cream supply facility in Newtownabbey.

Graeme’s position within the J&J Distillery will oversee all supply and distillery related business. His role will be based at the Company’s new site at Crumlin Road Gaol and includes the development of distilling functions, building the team responsible for its smooth running, as well as management of the supply of the company’s award-winning McConnell’s Irish Whisky. Graeme’s focus is to develop the signature flavour of J&J McConnell’s Single Malt Irish Whisky and to develop the skills of the Distillery Team, building the legacy of Belfast quality spirit and harnessing the Belfast work ethic to re-kindle the craft that once helped put Belfast on the map.

Joanne Paffey

Supply Chain Controller

Raised in Newtownabbey, North Belfast, Joanne has been working in the manufacturing industry for 35 years.  She is educated to Level 5 Management & Leadership, APICS certified in Production and Inventory Management and is highly skilled in Business Operations, Customer and Supplier Relationship Management, Production Planning, Purchasing and Stores Management.

Prior to joining Belfast Distillery Joanne worked at Canyon Europe for almost 20 years. One of her greatest achievements at Canyon Europe was as Project Champion for the implementation of the ERP and Shop Floor Data Capture software systems which helped manage the rapid growth of the company at the time, this brought other benefits such as The Queens award for International Export, ISO9000 & UK Green efficiency IT awards.

Joanne lives with her partner Stephen and is a proud mother of two boys Sam and Kyle. Outside of work she spends time with my family, eating out and city breaks. 

“It is a privilege being part of such a determined and passionate team at Belfast Distillery Team and I am hopeful my skills and experiences will help it be a huge success.” 

Claire Crerand

Visitor Experience Operations Manager

Originally from the North Coast of Ireland Claire has spent the last 11 years living and working in Scotland. After graduating from Edinburgh Napier University in 2016 with a degree in events management, Claire has spent her career in Scotch Whisky tourism, moving home to join the exciting world of Irish whisky. She has worked in various roles in a busy and popular royal mile attraction and has been leading teams to exceptional customer standards ever since. 

In her spare time Claire enjoys spending time with family, going for walks with her dog, playing Irish trad music and enjoying lovely days out with her husband. She is a keen whisky enthusiast and is excited to learn more about Irish whiskey. 

As McConnells brings distilling back to Belfast it also brings Claire back home. ‘It is a privilege to be part of the team bringing distilling back to Belfast, and I can’t wait for everyone to come and experience what we have to offer. It’s going to be amazing!’



After graduating in Business Studies from Ulster University, Sarah spent time in the corporate sector before joining the Belfast Distillery Company team. She has completed her WSET Level 2 in Spirits, and is continuing her studies of the sector. ‘I see that knowledge is essential to our goal here – helping to bring a legendary whisky back to life,’ she says.

Born and bred in Belfast, Sarah loves her home city and is always keen to introduce people to it – and to McConnell’s. Happily, her role as brand manager allows her to combine these twin passions.

A busy mum, Sarah finds time when she can for running, live gigs – ‘and of course, the local whiskey clubs’.

Mark Johnston

Head of Sales & Marketing

Mark brings a wealth of knowledge and experience gained from 30 years working in FMCG senior commercial roles, across multiple markets and channels, having built a strong network of suppliers and retailers across the UK and key EMEA markets. He has developed strategic relationshipsand implemented commercial strategies, delivered JBP’s and revenue targets and has successfully negotiated commercial plans and customer agreements at a global level.

In his spare time Mark enjoys triathlons, skiing, hiking, adventure travel & also attending live music events. After playing Rugby for almost 30 years, Mark has finally hung up his boots and is now participating in triathlons, having completed Ironman events in Copenhagen 2016 and Austria in 2019.

Corey Fitzpatrick

Brand Ambassador

Our Brand Ambassador, Corey Fitzpatrick, hails from Ballynahinch in Co. Down and has a deep connection to his roots. He pursued his education at Northumbria University, where he not only gained knowledge but also found his passion for the hospitality sector. Having graduated with a degree in Primary Education, Corey ventured into the world of Irish Whiskey, embarking on a journey as a tour guide at a nearby distillery. This experience ignited his enthusiasm and expertise in the realm of whiskey.

Beyond his professional pursuits, Corey finds joy in football, exploring new destinations, maintaining an active lifestyle, and attending live gigs.

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