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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Australia's love affair with beer, the beach and sporting events has led to an international innovation — the plastic beer bottle.

In what it claims is a world first, Melbourne-based Carlton & United Breweries Ltd. has started bottling beer in half-liter, clear PET bottles.

Liz Jarvis, CUB communications manager, said the plastic bottles currently are restricted to CUB's Carlton Cold brand beer and have been distributed to selected Australian liquor outlets in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

She said early response to the plastic bottles has been positive; however, CUB will continue to review consumer reaction before deciding if plastic bottles will be introduced for other CUB beer brands.

CUB decided to test a plastic bottle because of the increasing number of locations where glass bottles are dangerous or not allowed in Australia, such as beaches, parks and sporting venues.

Jarvis said the plastic bottles are unbreakable, but have a shelf life of only six weeks, compared to beer packaged in glass or aluminum cans, which has no use-by dates.

However, the plastic beer bottle manufacturer, Melbourne-based ACI Petalite, a division of BTR Nylex Ltd. of Melbourne, is examining ways to extend the shelf life by using a multilayer PET structure.

Jarvis said CUB's beer tasted the same in plastic bottles as in glass or aluminum cans.

``It is exactly the same beer, but some people say it tastes even better [in plastic],'' Jarvis said.