Gin and beer tasting are an unusual find along the West Coast at Port Owen in Velddrif – an area better known for its excellent wines writes KAREN WATKINS

It’s easy to miss. Until now. Part of the fun of travel is getting lost. Even better is finding what you are looking for. It’s a 90-minute drive up the West Coast Way from Cape Town to the Carinus Bridge where salt is harvested from pans below.

Take a left towards St Helena Bay and then another left into Port Owen. It resembles any other housing estate with its network of roads lined with the back sides of houses. They are nothing palatial, but when viewed from the water it’s another story.

Named after H. Owen Wiggins Junior, the white houses are surrounded on three sides by the Berg River estuary. It took Wiggins 15 years to dredge one million cubic metres of sand and rock from the 100 hectare area to construct Port Owen is South Africa’s first deep-sea residential marina.

Arrive by kayak on the 3.5km of waterways of Port Owen. Pictures: Karen Watkins, Richard Lowndes
Arrive by kayak on the 3.5km of waterways of Port Owen. Pictures: Karen Watkins, Richard Lowndes

Check in by yacht, kayak, canoe

Whether you arrive by luxury yacht, kayak or canoe on the 3.5km of waterways, or by car, don’t miss Port Owen.

Accommodation varies from homestays to the boutique hotel Russell’s On The Port. Food is served on the covered veranda, which boasts a wood-fired pizza oven, or the restaurant which has a fireplace and walls adorned with mementos collected by owner Russell Foster. Originally from Britain, Foster adopted Port Owen after falling in love with the West Coast.

Assistant Willa Fourie with distiller Renaldo Fourie
Assistant Willa Fourie with distiller Renaldo Fourie

Gin distillery

Artisan gin and craft beer are a pleasant surprise in an area known for excellent wine. They are located in Port Owen’s small commercial area and the dream children of Foster and inspired by his family.

Poetic License gin distillery opened in October 2019. It’s managed by Renaldo Fourie with help from wife Willa and 500-litre copper pot still christened Amelia after Foster’s granddaughter.

Poetic License gin brands currently include Northern Dry, Old Tom, Strawberries and Cream and Fireside Spiced Gin.

Craft microbrewery

Named after Foster’s grandson, beer at Charlie’s Brewery is made by brewmaster Anton Knoetze. Having started out as a hobbyist in the 1980s making beer from a kit it turned more serious when Anton visited Germany. Anton has spent many years of holidays in Velddrif and bought a house in 2010. Five years later and retirement he moved there permanently and was hand-picked by Foster to run the brewery.

Charlie’s Brewery boasts four beer variants – Sandveld lager, Lighthouse blonde ale, Cormorant Bourbon stout and Harbour American pale ale. They recently launched a Weiss beer in time for the festive season.

Don’t miss Charlie’s Brewery special dessert
Don’t miss Charlie’s Brewery special dessert

Charlie’s food

Charlie’s Brewery extensive menu was developed by David Walker – formerly of the Taproom at Devil’s Peak Brewing Company. Dishes range from bar snacks to traditional hearty British pub fare adapted for the West Coast palette.

Taste buds salivate selecting from local mussels in ale and coconut sauce, Moroccan spiced lamb burger with tomato and cumin relish, honey mustard glazed eisbein or steamed beef and ale pudding with cauliflower puree. Vegetarians are not forgotten. Try the mushroom pasta with spinach – a delicious concoction with cream, chilli and sage paired with Darling sauvignon. Or the chickpea and lentil burger served with beetroot, avocado and tzatziki accompanied with Harbour pale ale.

Leave space for dessert. Apart from old favourites there’s chocolate brownie with stout ice cream, lemon posset with cranberry biscotti or dessert of the day – chocolate mousse with ice cream.

The service is great, as is the music and there are large television screens for sport fans, Seating is inside near the bar or in the raised, glass-panelled terrace.

Other things to do

Take a walk: along 7km of embankment and the Berg River at low tide to where it enters St. Helena Bay at Laaiplek (loading place). Around 1830 Laaiplek was established as a depot to collect wheat and other products to transport to Cape Town. It was only when Italian families arrived that Velddrif became known for its pelagic fish industry and bokkom production. At the breakwater and harbour entrance there are typical Sandveld houses.

Buy bokkoms, beer and more at Bokkom Laan to the east of the Berg River.

The history: The SA Fishing Museum celebrates local history, nostalgically interweaving its whaling past to pelagic fishing and rock lobster catching. The late 1800s building is in De Villiers Street, at Laaiplek Hotel.

Bird watching: Port Owen forms part of the flamingo bird route which stretches along the West Coast Way. The mud banks of the Berg River have the highest diversity of waders along the Atlantic seaboard. Beaches are habitat for black oystercatchers, terns and gulls feasting on mussels and other shell fish. Marshes have water birds including blue heron, redshank, curlew sandpipers and plovers.

Sailing: St. Helena is the largest bay on the West Coast and offers fine sailing conditions. Vasco Da Gama landed here and a monument was erected at Shelley Point by the Portuguese government.

There is also angling and fishing from the beach or boat; golf at the nine-hole golf course, squash, tennis and a bowling green.

Where: Port Owen West Coast South Africa
Poetic License: 022 125 0568,
Charlie’s Brewhouse: 022 783 0448,
Russells on the Port: 022 783 0158,,
SA Fishing Museum: 022 783 2531, 082 849 9251,
Pictures: Karen Watkins, Richard Lowndes