THE FIRST was Dinkel Acker.

Dale Van Wieren of Lansdale, Montgomery County, cracked open the dark German lager on March 19, 1971, wrote its name in a notebook, poured himself a glass and put the bottle on a shelf.

The next was Fix, a Greek beer, then, San Miguel from the Philippines.

And so it went, year after year, shelf by shelf, from one room to the next and out into the garage - more than 7,200 bottles plus hundreds more drafts enjoyed in brewpubs and taverns, each meticulously entered into a notebook.

No. 10,000 will be tomorrow.

That's when Sly Fox Brewery & Restaurant, in Phoenixville, will honor the prolific suds-sipper with a ceremonial tapping of the specially made Dale's 10K Brew.

"It's a stupid thing to do," said Van Wieren, 59, only half-jokingly of his feat. "I don't recommend it."

Think about it: If you tasted a different beer every day for 25 consecutive years, you'd still need another two-plus years to reach 10,000.

For Van Wieren, beer is no mere hobby - it's a life.

A job as a nursing-home inspector brings home the paycheck, but Van Wieren is known in beer circles as one the nation's foremost breweriana collectors and historians. He frequently writes about beer for trade publications, and he's the author of "American Brewers II," the seminal listing of every known American beer-maker in the past 300 years.

Last week, as he continued the trek toward his landmark brew, Van Wieren invited me up to his 1840s farmhouse to talk beer. Which challenged even my well-stocked fridge: What do you bring the man who has drunk practically everything?

It took me a half-hour to find a bottle that wasn't on Van Wieren's exhaustive Excel spreadsheet - a list that circles the globe, from Argentina (Santa Fe Premium) to Zaire (Ngoma Castel), plus every state.

I showed up with a French Christmas ale called Thiriez Bière de Noël - it would be beer No. 9,975.

"So much beer," he said while uncorking the bottle, "so little time."

Van Wieren said he has no idea why he started his lifetime pursuit. "I was born in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia, and I had family who worked in breweries. I guess I kind of absorbed it as a young kid."

When he started collecting, only about 40 different brewery companies operated in the United States, and imports were few. His entire collection could fit into a spare closet.

But the American microbrewery revolution and increased interest in unusual foreign beers has provided a seemingly unending supply of bottles. Lined on shelves throughout Van Wieren's home, their colorful labels are a veritable art exhibit.

As we roamed through his collection, I pulled unique bottles from the shelves, and Van Wieren had a story for each.

_ Trommers White Label Premium. "The brewery had been out of business for 10 years when I found it in the bottom of a cooler in some store. It wasn't horrible."

_ Warbird T-6 Red Ale. "The brewery actually delivered that to me in a B-25 at a local air show."

_ Kentucky's Finest Horse Piss. "Unfortunately, it's truth in advertising."

_ Ballantine's Burton. "It was brewed in 1934 and then bottled in 1944. Ballantine gave it to their employees, and I got it from a cousin who was a sales manager. I didn't taste it yet - maybe on my deathbed I'll crack it open."

Before that, many more beers await. Incredibly, 10,000 different brands is not a world record - not even close.

Bob and Ellie Tupper, of Bethesda, Md., have tasting records for more than 18,000 beers. In Britain, where dedicated tasters are called "tickers," there's a guy known as The Whippet who has notes on more than 40,000 brews.

"I guess it's a little like climbing Everest," Van Wieren said. "Others might have done it before me, but 10,000 beers is a fairly exclusive club."

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.