I do not get the sense that skooma makes for a good party. Elder Scrolls lore states that this narcotic beverage is brewed in shadowy alchemy labs and sold for piles of dirty gold by the Khajiit caravans around Skyrim, and the psychoactive effect is akin to going on a particularly bleary Ketamine binge. Or, in other words: a brief period of watery euphoria followed by paralyzing narcolepsy.
The skooma addicts you find in game never seem to be thrilled about where life has led them; who wants to be horizontal in a Whiterun flophouse, heavy bags under your eyes, trying to finesse a fresh score from the Dragonborn? So when my ceramic jar of boutique skooma arrived from the elite British distillery Jim & Tonic, I did find myself wondering if the Imperium were about to kick down my doors and haul my ass off to Cyrodiil. Clearly, Tamriel would be better off if skooma was purged from the streets.
Jim and Tonic's special edition Skooma absinthe weighs in at 69% ABV and costs £69.00 for 70cl. It's currently out of stock, and by the time we'd imported Luke's bottle to the US it cost us $139. Please drink (and spend) more responsibly.
Jim & Tonic do not have access to magicka, which means that their interpretation of skooma must rely on ingredients found on boring old earth. It is an absinthe with a disconcerting pale-magenta hue, and it retails for 69 pounds on the company's website. (The brew is made with the full approval of Bethesda Softworks, and apparently it took home second place at something called the "UK Spirit Masters", which brings to mind some sort of stuffy Absinthe Knower, begrudgingly handing over a blue ribbon to a meme cocktail.)
I am far from a mixologist—as a gaming journalist, my preferred drink is a gin soda, no ice—and absinthe, in particular, is way out of my comfort zone. But that did not stop me from planning a night around the most immersive Skyrim experience anyone can have; pressing play on a brand new save file, rolling towards certain death in the back of that fateful wagon, with a sturdy glass of skooma in tow for the escape.
That, and the fact PC Gamer's reckless editors offered to foot the bill.
To drink absinthe in its purest, most Wildeian form, you are supposed to dilute it with water and a sugar cube. That is certainly true for Jim & Tonic's skooma, because, at 69 percent ABV, this stuff will singe your eyebrows off. A pang of citrus tart, a waft of wormwood funk, a morass of deciduous aromatics, all pierced through by total napalm. The heat dominated my palette with every sip, as my newly minted Dunmer mage became accustomed to his new life far from home.
Is there a cocktail menu for skooma? Should I be mixing this stuff? Nothing on the website pointed me in the right direction. I could've sprung for some harsh mineral water to cut the acid, but honestly, that felt a bit sacrilegious. For one, the stuff tastes good on its own—all fiery, ornery and bone-dry. But it was also difficult to imagine the denizens of Tamriel, who mostly seem to lead brutal, death-haunted existences, pulling the punches on their nightly chemical sojourns. If I was going to roleplay effectively, I sure as hell couldn't reduce my dosage.
All the stuff you read about the hallucinatory potential of absinthe is bunkum. That all stems from a litany of questionable research authored by wiggy, 18th century doctors—dudes who were probably trying to turn iron into gold in their off time—which is to say that I did not transcend my corporeal being as I slid down deeper into my skooma glass. But the oppressively high alcohol content did pair nicely with my return to the Druadach Mountains.
It's been a decade since I last played Skyrim, and I think the anesthetic spritz helped open me back up to my glory days: 2011, specifically. The mist swept through the frigid valleys, that ethereal, omnipresent choir guided my hand, and the swift onset of skooma buzz drove a stake between me and all my other lingering anxieties. Maybe that's the real high of absinthe; the chance to play the Elder Scrolls back in your original brainstate.
Of course, then I was blindsided by a vengeful lich, gummed up in a confusing questline, and marooned in the awkward geometry of an abandoned cave. Yes, this was Skyrim through and through—after a decade to molder, its rough edges pounce off the TV screen. You always know when it's time to end a session, and it's usually after the Elder Scrolls entropy becomes too much to bear. I downed the shallow layer of skooma left washing around in the bottom of my cup, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. The bottle still looms on my bar cart, waiting and ready whenever I want to take another trip to the past.
Verdict? Five stars, as far as I'm concerned. Screw Mass Effect's Red Sand and Final Fantasy's Somnus, the only mood-altering videogame substance I'm indulging in is skooma. The best drug currently available on store shelves is a peaceful Skyrim campaign, where time stands forever still. Thank god we finally have the spirit to make us one with the vibe.