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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The collector: Mike Bippes, fan of Budweiser but not Rainier, has assembled collection of 4,000 cans and bottles

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

A song comes to mind when viewing Mike Bippes’ collection.

“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer …”

Only in Bippes’ case, it’s actually, 4,000 bottles and cans of beer. Some are empty. Most are full.

“I’ve been collecting for 40 years,” Bippes said. “I started at the young age of 13.”

His dad was an Old Milwaukee drinker, and Bippes suspects that classic red-and-white can spawned his collection.

“I had a shelf that went around my room,” he said.

He lined it with scavenged beer cans and bottles. Friends and family members added to his collection and he found his own ways to enlarge it.

“I’d rummage through the garbage cans at golf courses,” he said. “I liked the different colors, brands and names.”

As an adult, his collection continued to grow, and he found his favorite beer.

“Budweiser,” Bippes said. “I’m a (St. Louis) Cardinals fan and Anheuser-Busch owned the Cardinals for a time.”

One of his most treasured bottles is a red Budweiser from 2011, the last time the Cardinals won the World Series. He’s such a Bud fan that he built a beer throne made entirely of Budweiser millennium cans.

Why a Bud throne?

“It’s the King of Beers,” he said. “The chair took me about six months to make and is made of 1999-2000 beer cans. I’d drink ’em, save ’em and stack ’em.”

He patted the throne.

“It’s Y2K compatible.”

To get to the room in his Spokane Valley home that contains his collection, one must enter his man cave, complete with seats from the old “Boone Street Barn,” aka the Spokane Coliseum, and a vintage Flash Gordon pinball game.

Then you must open the door with the sign that reads, “No alcohol beyond this point.”

“Usually, you have to have a beer in hand to enter,” Bippes said.

A wall of carefully stacked Budweiser cans lines the entryway, but Bippes has several unique Bud cans and bottles including, cans of Budweiser Light.

“This was before they shortened it to ‘Bud Light,’ ” he said.

Of special significance, six-packs stamped with the “born on” dates, 11/11/2003 and 5/13/2005 – the birth dates of his son and daughter.

“I still don’t have any dated 7/13/2002, my wedding day,” Bippes said.

Of course, his collection is not completely Bud-centered. For a short time, Rainier Beer was brewed in Spokane at Sick’s Spokane Brewery and Bippes has a couple of bottles featuring the Spokane label.

When asked what he thinks is the worst-tasting beer, however, he quickly answered, “Rainier.”

Bippes also has television-themed containers like camouflaged “M*A*S*H 4077th” beer cans and “J.R.” Beer from the “Dallas” television series.

And of course, brewers delight in making holiday-themed containers. Bippes has Miller Light Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day bottles on his shelves.

Among his most unusual items are beers that didn’t make it out of the test-market stage, like Jack Daniels Lager and Miller Clear Beer.

There’s a reason Bippes favors full containers over emptied ones.

“In my opinion, they’re worth more if they’re filled,” he said. “But you do have to preserve them at a certain temperature.”

To wit – frozen beer expands and explodes, so no garage storage for this collector.

Beer bottle and can collecting can be relatively inexpensive.

“They range from $1 on up,” he said. “The most I’ve spent was $15, but I’ve seen a flat top can go for $3,000.”

Flat tops are the earliest evolution of beer cans. The heavy steel cans could only be opened one way: with a church key, a long piece of metal, pointed at one end, that drinkers used to create two holes in the can’s top. One was for drinking, the other to allow air to flow. Until the 1960s, the flat top can dominated the market.

Then came the pull tab, which soon fell out of favor. The sharp tabs cut fingers, often broke before fully opening the beverage and were harmful to the environment.

Enter the press buttons cans, of which Bippes has a few. These came with two precut buttons, mimicking the holes one would make with a church key. A plastic covering protected the holes, which the drinker was to depress with two fingers.

The current stay tab quickly snuffed out two-button cans.

While he doesn’t specifically collect beer tabs, he did amass enough of them to make 10 American flags.

“The blue tabs came from Michelob Ultra,” he said.

He doesn’t drink that beer and he quickly realized it would take a long time to get the needed tabs from friends, so he turned to the internet.

“I bought 1,000 for $20 on eBay,” Bippes said.

Why 10 flags?

He shrugged.

“I had 10 boards.”

Like most collectors, Bippes’ joy comes in sharing his passion with others.

“People come down here and look around and say, ‘Wow!’ ” he said. “Then they try to stump me. Do you have …”

He then checks his inventory, aka his book o’ beer, a three-ring binder filled with spreadsheets itemizing his collection.

Once he was stumped when someone asked him if he had Bud Ice.

The beer was discontinued in 2010, and Bippes had nary a can.

“I had to go on the internet and buy it,” he said.

But even more enjoyable is the nostalgia his collection prompts.

“People say, ‘Oh! I remember my uncle drinking this!’ Or, ‘My dad drank this beer,’ ” Bippes said. “I like hearing the stories.”