by Eric Ginsburg

Mark Weddle has been a fixture behind bars in Greensboro for two decades and has probably invented more than 200 drinks, but when the gregarious beverage director for Josephine’s Bistro is ordering for himself, he’d prefer Miller High Life Light and Jägermeister.

Laughing with one of his co-workers, he added that he’d prefer the watery beer in a can, if possible.

Yet Weddle is an award-winning bartender, ranking among eight finalists in the country in last year’s Best Bloody Mary in America competition, hosted by the Food Network show “Chopped.” It was his second year participating in the New York City competition, and though the judges only announced a First Place winner, he feels confident that he finished near the top.

The first round of this year’s battle — conducted via online voting — was scheduled to end Monday night but no winners had been announced by press time on Tuesday. Weddle was hopeful, adding that his Rainy Day Mary was holding at first in the state.

It’s a drink he’s been perfecting since last year’s competition, focusing on the nuances of the beverage. Even the rim of the glass received significant attention, lined with kosher salt, Old Bay seasoning and toasted hemp seeds.

A Zing Zang base anchors the mix, which Weddle rounds out with cilantro, horseradish, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, pickle juice, lemon juice, celery salt and cayenne pepper. But wait, there’s more: the drink is topped with a lemon wedge, a strip of freshly cooked bacon, a pickle spear, two olives stuffed with roasted red pepper and bleu cheese, and a stick of celery.

It’s a bit of a snack, Weddle offered, and is designed to still fill its classic role as a hangover cure.

“If it makes you sweat, that’s good, but it shouldn’t hurtcha,” he said.

There is a lot to consider when concocting a drink such as this, including balancing the acidity and spices as well as maintaining a good reddish color, Weddle said.

The first year he competed, his invention proved too difficult to replicate easily, but this time around he has it down, making it more easily available to people who want to come in and order one.

He suggests drinking through the straw first, to experience the full heat of the drink, and then sipping from the rim for complexity.

The 41-year-old has only worked at Josephine’s for two months. He honed his craft over the years, starting in the industry at Darryl’s and continuing at a number of venues including Green Valley Grill the defunct Rhino Club. Weddle recently created the Bloody Mary Menu at Mad Hatters, which boasts novelties including beef straws.

The East Carolina University dropout has only held one job outside the restaurant industry since the age of 13, and he is content.

“I decided to make the most out of what I initially wanted to do,” Weddle said. “It comes naturally to me, talking to people and making drinks.”

Find Mark Weddle, his stellar moustache and the Rainy Day Mary at Josephine’s Bistro, 2417 Spring Garden St. (GSO) or call 336.285.6590.

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