I've long been a fan of Fuller's IPA. I first came across it years ago when thanks to the Fuller's Fine Ale Club I got an invitation to the re-opening of the Jolly Farmer in Worplesdon. There was an excellent spread laid on and more importantly free beer, including Fuller's IPA (4.8% ABV). Now it is an undeniable fact that free beer tastes better but the IPA really was very good.
Despite my best efforts I've only found it occasionally since then. It's part of Fuller's seasonal range but doesn't have a regular slot in the calendar and the brewery don't reply to emails when you inquire after it. Despite our best efforts (phoning lots of pubs, many of which had never heard of it) we missed out on it last time it came out as it coincided with a holiday we were having in the lake district.
I found it in bottle once, in a mixed Fuller's four pack but mostly the bottled version was one of those very annoying beers that are only destined to export to the states. And even that seems to have been discontinued.
Things started to look up though when the lovely Lisa and I spotted a bottled conditioned version at 5.3% ABV at the Fuller's Fine Ale Club anniversary do. We made sure we got extensive stocks for the beer cupboard.
Since then Fuller's have brought out an IPA on draught at 5% ABV and bottle conditioned at 5.3% ABV called Bengal Lancer. Unlike the normal version this one has had some promotion behind it and has been easier to find. We hot footed it up to London to try some on draught as we didn't want to miss out this time, and bottles are now in my local Waitrose I so got hold of some of those as soon as possible. And as I've still got some of the normal IPA we've been able to do a carefully controlled scientific study to see if it's really different.
First I looked at the blurb on the back:
This historic style of ale was originally created to refresh the troops at the height of the British empire in India. This brew has faithfully recreated the these traditional characteristics, creating a superbly refreshing beer.
Bottle conditioning, where a small amount of yeast is allowed to ferment gently in the bottle, give this beer the fresh, natural flavour of real ale. Pale amber in appearance, India Pale Ale has a distinctively hoppy flavour from the goldings hops in the brew.
India Pale Ale is an historic style of English beer that traditionally was always strong and well-hopped. It was first brewed in the 19th century to refresh the troops in India during the time of the British empire - perhaps the most famous of these troops being the Bengal Lancers; cavalry regiments whose dashing exploits have passed into folklore.
Our brew uses traditional English malt and goldings hops to evoke memories of this pale amber, distinctively hoppy and superbly refreshing brew. Bottle conditioning, where a small amount of yeast is allowed to ferment gently in the bottle, give this beer the fresh, natural flavour of real ale.
There's clearly a lot of overlap between the two beers: both hoppy, refreshing pale amber bottle conditioned beers with goldings hops.
So on to the tasting. We started by doing blind tastings using the triangle test: three small glass of beer, two of one beer, one of the other and spot the odd one out. It was immediately apparent that the beers were very similar. The lovely Lisa was unable to tell them apart and I couldn't detect any obvious differences so I had to
guess use the force to pick out the odd one.
We could have done with a larger number of testers to get a statistically significant result but even without applying chi squared we could see there wasn't much between the two beers.
The next stage was to pour out the beers and get on with the proper drinking. Both looked the same colour and the slight difference in flavour we detected (Bengal Lancer a bit more hop aroma?) could well be down to batch variation and the different age of the beers (the IPA being bought three months ago).
Thought the official line (as reported here) is that Fuller's IPA and Bengal Lancer are different beers our research finds that difference is very small indeed.