Mead is a fermented beverage made of honey, water, and yeast. Yeast converts the sugars in the honey to alcohol during fermentation. Various other ingredients may be added to the mead to create various types of mead. Mead with spices is called a methyglyn. A melomel is mead with fruit, or fruit juice. Some more common fruits make a particular type of melomel: cyser (apple), perimel (pear), pyment (grapes). Here at U2M we try to make some unique meads and have had very good luck with our flower meads which we call floramels. Mead with rose petals is call a rhodomel, but I don't think there is an official name for violets, lilacs, woodruff and lavender that we have used. We have also used the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which is 'tuna' in Spanish. Our tuna meads are made with fruit, not fish.
Mead making is a fairly simple process, but it takes patience and good sanitation. Honey is heated with water (160F for 20 minutes to pasteurize). This is called the must. The must is then cooled. The yeast likes it to be around 90F when it is pitched (added to the must). We have a "must chiller" which was made by wrapping copper pipe, first around a large jug and then around a wine bottle for a double coil, with both ends on top. Plastic tubes are attached to the ends and we have a tube adapter that can be put on the kitchen faucet to send cold water through the coils. The must goes into a large food grade plastic bucket, or sometimes a glass carboy. The bucket is best when adding other ingredients.
As the must ferments sediment (called lees) collects on the bottom of the container. Racking is the process of moving the mead from one container to another container, leaving the lees behind. This is always done at least once, and may be done another time or two before bottling. The mead shouldn't sit in the primary fermenter for too long. After the first racking it can sit for a few months. At U2M we have left meads sit in a carboy for up to a year, bulk aging, before bottling. If you are leaving a mead sit for that long it should be fairly clear and you should check the fermentation (bubble) lock regularly to be sure it doesn't dry out. The bubble lock allows gas to escape as the mead ferments, while preventing other things from getting in.
At Talisman Farm we rack into a corney keg, which is connected to a carbon dioxide cylinder, for the final racking before bottling. The carbon dioxide prevents oxidation and it used to sparkle the mead. The old U2M way to sparkle was to add corn sugar just before bottling and hope that the yeast would perk up a bit and create a bit of fizz. With the corney keg you have some control over the amount of fizz.
While many U2M meads have been bulk aged, a mead may be ready to bottle in as little as a couple of months, depending on the type of yeast and other ingredients. Hydrometers can be used to measure specific gravity. The higher the gravity the sweeter the mead. Too high means it isn't ready to bottle. U2M has often not been good about taking gravity readings, but these will help you determine when your mead is ready to bottle, can be used to determine potential and final alcohol content, and allow you to taste it occasionally while it ferments.
Once the meads are bottled most will continue to improve with age, even 20+ years after the bottling date. Some meads that aren't very good at first may improve quite a bit with enough aging. However, not all meads age as well, so try a bottle every now and then to see how it's doing. My experience with our floramels is that they don't age as well and should probably be consumed within 5 years. Generally speaking though, try not to drink them up all at once, because they can get better after a few years in bottle.