“The only thing worse than working over Christmas is having to sort out the rota” - Veterinary Practice
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“The only thing worse than working over Christmas is having to sort out the rota”

Christmas comes but once a year and when it does, it brings the Christmas rota. At the last RCVS survey, about 60 percent of practitioners said that they still do their own on call, and for those of you who do not, someone else is doing the nights, weekends and bank holidays for you. All over the UK there will be vets and nurses working throughout the Christmas season. The only thing worse than working over Christmas is having to sort out the rota as to who does what and when.

It used to be tradition that the newest vet in the practice did Christmas Day, the logic being that if they left before next year, at least you had one Christmas out of them. This quaint initiation seems to have died off somewhat and as such, our newest vet is getting off pretty much scot-free. This year, it is my turn to be unwrapping presents with the mobile phone propped up in the windowsill to ensure I get reception for the inevitable calls – usually along the festive themes of “My dog/cat has eaten the turkey/Christmas pudding/tinsel/mince pies” and “It is vomiting/has tinsel stuck halfway out of its arse/I’ve Googled it and aren’t they toxic?”

Our season has kicked off early when just this week a Labrador managed to eat a massive catering tub of mincemeat for mince pies. It spent a few days on fluids while the raisins ejected themselves from either end of the patient. You will be pleased to know that the Labrador suffered no loss of appetite and continues to do well.

To make the big day feel a bit more normal, I will be stocking the shelves at home with some alcohol-free beer. I do drink the stuff when on call and it has become a minor hobby to find the best ones. To this end, and as a service to my readers, I enlisted the help of some friends and we embarked on a tasting session. One member of the team was a home-brewer of distinction and a real ale expert; the rest, shall we say, have several decades of beer-drinking experience. I asked one (a recently retired community psychiatric nurse) if it was a good thing that I could forgo alcohol when on call, or bad that I needed to replace it with a very near substitute. He thought for a second and replied tactfully – “I don’t think it’s altogether good really.”

So for those of you on call, pregnant or otherwise teetotal for some or all of the Christmas season, here is a round-up of the better alcohol-free beers readily available from your local supermarket. I have chosen ones that I think are OK; many others did not make the tasting session! For each, I have provided a brief introduction and some comments from the “expert panel”.


St Peters without Gold
This is one of my personal favourites and comes in beautiful oval bottles. The Gold is better than the standard one, but I find the batches seem to vary quite a bit. It is provided in decent-sized 500ml bottles. Comments from the group included: “Pondwater”; “Sweet”; “Chemical aftertaste, but not as bad as some alcohol-free beers”.

Brewdog, Nanny State IPA
This is quite a strong real ale and comes in small 330ml bottles. “Quite thin”; “A proper ale”; “Very bitter”.

Budweiser Prohibition Brew
Provided in small cans, this brew is readily available. It is much better than some others out there, but still has a bit of that chemical taste of alcohol-free beer. “Like a weak urine sample” (from the GP in the group; not sure how he knows what that tastes like but maybe that’s NHS cuts for you); “Inoffensive and fizzy”; “All front no back”; “Thin malt. Started well but lacks character”.

One of the most popular, this brew is just labelled as an isotonic drink but is clearly a beer. It tastes like a blonde beer. “Thicker”; “Wheat beer”; “Not bad”; “Malted milk”; “Sweet”; “Hop and malt aroma, smooth and drinkable”; “Good head”; “Would be better colder”.

Old Mout Cider Berries and Cherries
I just picked this for variety; it tasted very much like a kid’s drink. “Basically posh Cherryade.”

Guinness Open Gate Brewery Pure Brew
This brew is the winner, and our recommendation for a sober night in. It is provided in small bottles and, somehow, they have removed the bugbear of the chemical taste of most alcohol-free beers. It actually just tastes like beer! “Hoppy, malty, aromatic”; “A winner”; “Not evaporated”; “The only one that could pass as beer”.

Enjoy the festive season and remember to drink responsibly when on call. Otherwise, just go nuts.

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