Norris Hill is an avid consumer of Knoxville craft beer, not a creator.
But since starting Honeybee Coffee in 2017, he has envisioned a brewery as part of his business model. He just needed to find the right brewer.
Enter veteran home-brewer Steve Dedman who showed up unannounced at Hill’s South Knoxville coffee shop in February 2020 to introduce himself and his vision.
“Basically, we had an entity in search of a brewery and a brewery in search of an entity,” Dedman told Knox News. “And we just got together, and it worked out really well.”
Hill is re-branding the business as Honeybee Coffee & Beer, and customers will get original craft beverages of both varieties across its multiple locations.
Dedman, who will serve as head brewer, will work out of Honeybee’s Kingston Pike location in the Lovell neighborhood of West Knoxville. Roasting will move to the Oakwood neighborhood in North Knoxville.
The North Knoxville roastery, located at 2150 N. Central St. at the Knox Glass building, could also include a coffee shop and retail space with a sensory lab and slow bar offering coffee cocktails.
Roasting there starts this week, Hill said, but the café won’t open for a few months.
Dedman hopes to have the brewery up and running by November, although people attending Knoxville Brewfest this weekend will get the first taste of what Honeybee Coffee & Beer has to offer, along with a look at the new brand.
“The mission of Honeybee has always been we use coffee as a platform to take care of people,” Hill said. “I would say that the beer is the exact same thing.”
The ‘perfect partnership’ for beer
Dedman has been home-brewing for 12 years and planned to open his own Chisholm Tavern Brewing in the Knoxville area.
He is married to Knox News Content and Photo Editor Jennifer Dedman.
“The whole process of opening a brewery for a good period of time will be just one blind alley after the other in a lot of ways,” he said. “For me, it was like, ‘OK, I’ve tried doing this as Chisholm Tavern but, if we can do this as Honeybee, then it works out for everybody.'”
Dedman described his relationship with Hill as the “perfect partnership” — he is a partner in the beer portion of the business. The two have a similar taste in beer, with a passion for hop-focused brews.
When it comes to brewing, Dedman tends to lean slightly traditional. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to experiment; he just brews what he likes to drink.
“You’ll get some good hoppy beers here, but I’m not averse to brewing anything,” Dedman said. “I’m looking forward to doing some with his coffee. … Norris sources his coffee from this farm or this farm, so we can custom roast that coffee to exactly how we want it and put it in a beer. And that beer will be absolutely unique to that coffee.”
Honeybee will have more than 40 taps across its locations, Hill said, although the West Knoxville shop will be the brewery’s home base with a five-barrel brewhouse.
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“It’s a total difference because for the last 12 years I’ve been brewing in my garage,” Dedman said. “It absolutely is (a dream come true). … My goal is to be open in early November. Now, some of my equipment is still somewhere between Seattle and Hong Kong on a shipping container. That’s been everybody’s pain for the last six months.”
The brewery will also can its beverages, Dedman said, and will start out with limited distribution.
Creating the ‘go-to place’ in West Knox
Hill said the West Knoxville location won’t see much physical change, although the brewing equipment will be visible through glass windows. Instead, the vibe at the shop will change in the late afternoon and evening, with dimmer lights and different music.
“It’s the same idea as sitting in here and having a cappuccino in the morning, just sitting here and having a brown ale that Steve has brewed in the afternoon,” Hill said. “I think the brewery, alone, will change (the atmosphere).”
Despite the taps on display behind the bar, not everyone realizes Honeybee already sells craft beer.
Once Honeybee begins making its own beer, it will launch a food menu for the bar. And rather than smelling coffee roasting, customers will enjoy the scents of beer brewing.
The Honeybee atmosphere in West Knoxville already fits what many beer drinkers enjoy, with an outdoor patio, comfortable seating, a separate room available for private events and garage doors that can be opened for fresh air.
The space is roughly 5,000 square feet.
“I want it to be the go-to for anybody, especially in West Knoxville,” Dedman said. “I want it to be the one where it’s about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday, some guy’s sitting in his office down in downtown Knoxville and says, ‘I’m going to hit Honeybee on the way home and have a good beer.'”
Orange Hat Brewing Company has helped fill that role in Hardin Valley, and Crafty Bastard Brewery recently opened a West Knoxville location. Hill and Dedman agree that having these businesses nearby can help Honeybee by boosting the overall beer scene.
“And competition is really good at that point,” Hill said. “Think how many more people are drinking good beer now than four years ago. It’s unbelievable. And I would say the same with specialty coffee.”
With the addition of beer, the West Knoxville location plans to extend its hours, perhaps to 10 p.m. during the week and midnight on the weekends. For more information, visit honeybeecoffeeco.com.