This is just a follow-up to the previous post, after a quick phone conversation with John Keeling, Fuller's head brewer, where he very kindly explained the genesis of the Fuller's Bengal Lancer and how it relates to Fuller's IPA.
I won't keep you in suspense any longer – they are different beers. I was going to say “totally different”, but they're not TOTALLY different – they are both IPAs brewed by Fuller's, around the same strength, with similar grain bills, so you'd expect them to share some similarities. But they are from different eras, and created by different brewers.
Fuller's IPA is a beer that dates from Reg Drury's tenure as head brewer. It was a fairly traditional take on IPA*, being produced at 4.8%abv on cask, and also a version that was brewed specifically for bottling. This brew used only one hop, Goldings. It was produced on and off for many years, as a special and for the export market. It wasn't a tremendously successful beer, but it added variety to the range.
Bengal Lancer is the result of a few factors, but mainly a result of John Keeling and Derek Prentice's tendency to tinker, and brew beer that they themselves would like to drink. Bengal Lancer for cask is brewed with Goldings and Fuggles in the copper, and then dry-hopped with Goldings and Target in the fermentation vessel. An identical version is brewed for bottle, but slightly stronger, and it is chill-filtered and pasteurised before being bottle-conditioned [UPDATE 6TH APRIL 2010: John Keeling just got in touch and explained that Bengal Lancer is NOT pasteurised, but the original IPA was].
A UK supermarket wanted an own label IPA, and they were shown a prototype of Bengal Lancer. They liked it, and asked Fuller's to jump through all the hoops required to gain a British Retail Standard Certificate. For what we shall euphemistically refer to as “various reasons”, but mainly relating to time and money, Fuller's decided that they didn't want to arse about completing this box-ticking exercise, and so the supermarket's own-label IPA didn't make it to their shelves.
Around the same time, the System Bolaget held one of their regular competitions to list a new beer. Unlabelled samples are submitted to System Bolaget for evaluation, and Bengal Lancer was the beer that was chosen by them. That's quite a big contract (about 600 brewer's barrels a year, or 172,800 pints), and so Bengal Lancer went into production. If you're brewing a beer, then I guess it makes sense to try it in as many markets as possible, so Bengal Lancer was launched in the UK, to tremendous success – so far it's selling about twice as much as anyone expected it to.
And that's the story, straight from the horses mouth (except for the phrase “arse about” with relation to the British Retail Standard Certificate. In a fit of writerly creativity, I inferred that from the tone of the conversation).
* if you've read Pete Brown's “Hops and Glory”, or read anything by Martin Cornell or Ron Pattinson, you'll know what a lot of nonsense this statement is. But I'm not getting into that here. I maybe should have said “a fairly conservative take on IPA”.