As the air gets colder and the days shorter, locally-brewed beers get darker.

As the air gets colder and the days shorter, locally-brewed beers get darker.

The three main players in Sussex County’s craft beer industry – Dogfish Head in Milton, 16 Mile in Georgetown and 3rd Wave in Delmar – are well into their fall brewing season and are preparing to roll out winter ales.

Dogfish Head’s famed Punkin Ale – a full-bodied brown ale brewed with pumpkin meat, brown sugar and various spices – is nearing the bottom of the barrel. The fall seasonal, which debuted in 1994 as one of Dogfish Head’s original brews, is released each year on Labor Day weekend and, despite brewing 10 percent more every year, the brewery and its distributors always sell out by the end of October.

“It would be an awesome beer to have at Thanksgiving, but we always run out before then,” said Justin Williams, a spokesman for Dogfish Head. “It’s a nice balance of pumpkin and fall spices that’s not overwhelming. It just tastes like fall to me.”

Since 1995, Dogfish Head’s winter seasonal brew has been Chicory Stout, a dark beer made with roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, St. John’s Wort and licorice root.

“It’s really roasty, rich and dark,” Williams said. “It’s a nice beer that you would drink by a fire or curled up watching a movie.”

However, Dogfish Head is replacing the longtime winter seasonal this year with a new brew. Piercing Pils is a hybrid of beer and pear cider. The Czech-style pilsner – brewed with pear juice, pear tea and Saaz hops – deviates from traditional winter ale recipes.

“Once again, Dogfish Head is zigging while everyone else is zagging,” Williams said.

Piercing Pils will be available in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles and on draft beginning Dec. 1. Chicory Stout will still be available on draft, but in limited quantities.

At 16 Mile, sales of Tiller Brown Ale – an English brown ale with the robust flavors of chocolate and coffee – are beginning to spike, according to Claus Hagelman, sales and marketing director.

“People definitely tend to enjoy a darker, bolder style of beer in cooler weather,” Hagelman said.

According to 16 Mile’s website, Tiller Brown’s rich, smooth flavor profile is “a proper reward after the harvest is over. Rich in agricultural history, the harvest is a critical part of life in Sussex County that spans the entire year. This beer celebrates those who feed their communities.”

The brewery is preparing to roll out a few limited edition stouts for Delaware Day on Dec. 7.

The Delaware Oyster Stout, a collaboration brew with Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, is set to return. The stout will be brewed during the Nov. 2 Return of the Evil Stouts Halloween celebration with 250 oysters provided by Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

“The oysters will sit in the boil and cook for about 20 minutes, adding a briny and mineral flavor to the beer,” said Rich Gustafson, tasting room manager for 16 Mile. “We’re going to pull the oysters out and sell them at Return of the Evil Stouts for $1 each. That money will go back to Delaware Estuary.”

According to 16 Mile’s website, the stout features a cherry wood smoked barley, which “sends a hint of bacon to the nose and leaves a campfire taste on the finish.”

Also set to brew on Nov. 2 is the Hot Fudge Sundae Stout, which is a cream-style stout brewed with fresh cherries, vanilla beans and chocolate.

Delaware Oyster and Hot Fudge Sundae will be brewed during Return of the Evil Stouts, which is held at the Georgetown brewery from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., but will not be available for sale until Dec. 7. The stouts will be available on draft only through December.

At the relatively young 3rd Wave Brewing Company, owner Lori Clough says the Chunkin Punkin Belgian Ale, in its second season, is a big hit.

“It’s a very drinkable pumpkin beer that’s not overly spiced or overly sweet,” Clough said. “We’ve made a pumpkin ale that you can drink more than one of.”

Chunkin Punkin is brewed with 20 pounds of pumpkin puree per barrel and is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, according to 3rd Wave’s website.

For the winter crowd, 3rd Wave currently has on tap the Grandswell Milk Stout, which Clough said is a very basic stout with lactose sugar, which gives it a sweeter taste.

“We did the milk stout last winter and it was really popular,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite beers.”

Also this winter, Clough said 3rd Wave will tap a coffee and cream stout, as well as a chocolate raspberry brew for Valentine’s Day.