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Trouble brewing

No sense in crying in your beer--at least not yet--over the loss of about $4 million worth of hops that burned in a Yakima, Wash., warehouse fire last week.

Major brewers store up to a year-and-a-half's supply of the key ingredient in beer to mitigate weather risks, says Ann George, administrator for the Moxee-based Washington Hops Commission, which represents growers.

"Probably the biggest fear and biggest concern among the industry is going to be the insurance rates," Ms. George said.

Steiner Group, the parent of S.S. Steiner Inc., which operated the warehouse, declined to say whether the supply of hops--which can self-combust--was insured. But it would be highly unusual to store millions of dollars worth of hops without insurance, sources say.

So farmers fear the loss will drive up their own insurance prices while hops processors like Steiner simultaneously look to offset their increased insurance rates by lowering the price they pay growers for their product.

But the loss of about 4% of the U.S. hops crop may not immediately impact beer availability or pricing. Area farmers suspect that many of the damaged hops were an alpha variety used to produce beer's bitter flavor.

The alpha hops currently are abundant, unlike aroma-producing hops that are in "somewhat limited supply" this year, Ms. George explained.

Yet Ms. George has had to assure distressed beer consumers, such as a Florida college journalist who called with worries that the loss might dampen her school's homecoming events.

Spooked by liability

They've given you an insurance policy claim number and taken away your name?

Johnny Rivers could update other lyrics from his 1960s hit "Secret Agent Man," perhaps by changing "odds are he won't live to see tomorrow" to "odds are he will get sued tomorrow."

That is the fear faced by some Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism officers who now buy professional liability coverage through Wright & Co. The Arlington, Va.-based broker provides government workers a wide range of insurance products including professional liability coverage underwritten by Defense Shield Assn., according to Brian Lewis, Wright & Co.'s president.

The liability coverage protects government managers from common complaints such as those filed by employees claiming harassment, according to a CIA spokesman.

But counterterrorism officers are also buying it in case they eventually get sued or face criminal allegations related to the application of rough interrogation techniques.

The terror-detainee legislation that Congress recently passed, but President Bush had not signed as of late last week, contains some liability protections for U.S. interrogators and the U.S. Department of Justice often provides a defense for U.S. employees.

But Mr. Wright points out that should the interests of the U.S. government diverge from employees', the employees could be on their own.

Aside from buying insurance, the nation's spooks might also want to take Mr. Rivers' risk management advice: "Ah, be careful what you say, or you'll give yourself away."

You've (not) got mail

Call it "e- and D'oh!" insurance. For an annual fee of less than $25, a company called is offering a service that allows users to recall an e-mail that, for whatever reason, they wish they hadn't sent.

On its Web site,, the company offers several uses for its service, including recalling an e-mail sent by accident and recovering "an angrily sent e-mail before it does any damage."

What's in a number?

When C.V. Starr & Co. Inc. last month announced the launch of its Lloyd's of London syndicate, it was no coincidence that the number assigned to the new entity was 1919.

That number has significance for Starr--the New York-based insurance group led by longtime industry executive Maurice R. Greenberg--because it's the year that American International Group Inc. founder and the Starr companies' namesake Cornelius Vander Starr founded his first insurance venture in Shanghai, China.

Under Lloyd's system of allocating syndicate numbers, special requests are allowed.

"The syndicates can pick a number, but the only two rules are: they can't pick a number that's in use, and they can't pick a number that's been used before," a London-based spokesman for the insurance market said.

Syndicate numbers run from 1 through 9999, with numbers 5999 and above reserved for nontraditional syndicates and Lloyd's internal accounts, and numbers 5998 and below allocated to traditional Lloyd's syndicates, the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Starr said that the company was eager to have its new syndicate reflect the company's roots by using the number 1919. "C.V. Starr requested the number to coincide with its history," she said.