Treatment of sugarcane molasses distillery wastewater is challenging due to the presence of complex phenolic compounds (melanoidins and polyphenols) having antioxidant properties. Due to zero liquid discharge regulations, Indian distilleries continue to explore effective treatment options. This work examines the concentration of distillery wastewater by forward osmosis (FO) using aquaporin biomimetic membranes and magnesium chloride hexahydrate (MgCl2.6H2O) as draw solution. The operational parameters viz. feed solution and draw solution flow rate and draw solution concentration were optimized using 10% v/v melanoidins model feed solution. This was followed by trials with distillery wastewater. Under the conditions of this work, feed and draw flow rates of 1 L/min and draw solution concentration of 2M MgCl2.6H2O for melanoidins model solution and 3M MgCl2.6H2O for distillery wastewater were optimal for maximum rejection. Rejection of 90% melanoidins, 96% antioxidant activity and 84% COD was obtained with melanoidins model feed, with a corresponding water flux of 6.3 L/m2h. With as-received distillery wastewater, the rejection was similar (85–90%) to the melanoidins solution, but the water flux was lower (2.8 L/m2h). Water recovery from distillery wastewater over 24 h study period was higher with FO (70%) than reported for RO (35–45%). Repeated use of the FO membrane over five consecutive 24 h cycles with fresh feed and draw solutions and periodic cleaning showed consistent average water flux and rejection of the feed constituents.